Ontogenetic Scaling of Theoretical Bite Force in Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)
Sexual dimorphism attributed to niche divergence is often linked to differentiation between the sexes in both dietary resources and characters related to feeding and resource procurement. Although recent studies have indicated that southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) exhibit differences in dietary preferences as well as sexual dimorphism in skull size and shape, whether these intersexual differences translate to differentiation in feeding performances between the sexes remains to be investigated. To test the hypothesis that scaling patterns of bite force, a metric of feeding performance, differ between the sexes, we calculated theoretical bite forces for 55 naturally deceased male and female southern sea otters spanning the size ranges encountered over ontogeny. We then used standardized major axis regressions to simultaneously determine the scaling patterns of theoretical bite forces and skull components across ontogeny and assess whether these scaling patterns differed between the sexes. We found that positive allometric increases in theoretical bite force resulted from positive allometric increases in physiological cross-sectional area for the major jaw adductor muscle and mechanical advantage. Closer examination revealed that allometric increases in temporalis muscle mass and relative allometric decreases in out-lever lengths are driving these patterns. In our analysis of sexual dimorphism, we found that scaling patterns of theoretical bite force and morphological traits do not differ between the sexes. However, adult sea otters differed in their absolute bite forces, revealing that adult males exhibited greater bite forces as a result of their larger sizes. We found intersexual differences in biting ability that provide some support for the niche divergence hypothesis. Continued work in this field may link intersexual differences in feeding functional morphology with foraging ecology to show how niche divergence has the potential to reinforce sexual dimorphism in southern sea otters.