Greater variability in rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) endocranial volume among males than females

Abigail E. Colby, Alex R. Decasien, Eve B. Cooper, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The greater male variability (GMV) hypothesis proposes that traits are more variable among males than females, and is supported by numerous empirical studies. Interestingly, GMV is also observed for human brain size and internal brain structure, a pattern which may have implications for sex-biased neurological and psychiatric conditions. A better understanding of neuroanatomical variability in non-human primates may illuminate whether certain species are appropriate models for these conditions. Here, we tested for sex differences in the variability of endocranial volume (ECV, a proxy for brain size) in a sample of 542 rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) from a large pedigreed free-ranging population. We also examined the components of phenotypic variance (additive genetic and residual variance) to tease apart the potential drivers of sex differences in variability. Our results suggest that males exhibit more variable ECVs, and that this pattern reflects either balancing/disruptive selection on male behaviour (associated with alternative male mating strategies) or sex chromosome effects (associated with mosaic patterns of X chromosome gene expression in females), rather than extended neurodevelopment among males. This represents evidence of GMV for brain size in a non-human primate species and highlights the potential of rhesus macaques as a model for sex-biased brain-based disorders.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number20220728
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1986
    StatePublished - Nov 9 2022


    • endocranial volume
    • rhesus macaques
    • sexual selection
    • variability

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
    • General Environmental Science
    • General Immunology and Microbiology
    • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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