Craniometric sexual dimorphism and age variation in the South African Cape dune mole-rat (Bathyergus Suillus)

14 October 2010

Because absolute mammalian age is difficult to measure directly, various methods have been used for its estimation. Among these methods, the degree of molar eruption and wear are considered to be the most reliable indicators of relative age. We used the nature and extent of maxillary molar toothrow eruption and wear to assign individuals of the solitary South African endemic Cape dune mole-rat {Bathyergus suillus) collected from a single population on the grounds of Cape Town Intemational Airport, Cape Town, South Africa, to 9 relative age classes. We then used cranial morphometric analysis, and for comparative purposes, an assessment of the nature and extent of variation in body mass and body length, to investigate the nature and extent of sexual dimorphism and age variation in this little-studied species of mole-rat. Both univariate and multivariate analyses distinguished relative age classes 2 and 3 from 6-9, but age classes 4 and 5 were intermediate between the 2 other age-class groupings, suggesting that individuals of age classes 4 and 5 may be at a point on a hypothetical growth curve where the curve begins to stabilize. Examination of our data showed the absence of sexual dimorphism in younger individuals of age classes 2-5. and its presence in older individuals of age classes 6-9. Together with a proposed study of microsatellites, our analyses may improve our understanding of the population structure of the Cape dune mole-rat.