Sexual variation in assimilation efficiency: Its link to phenotype and potential role in sexual dimorphism

Zachary R. Stahlschmidt, Jon R. Davis, Dale Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Sex-specific variation in morphology (sexual dimorphism) is a prevalent phenomenon among animals, and both dietary intake and resource allocation strategies influence sexually dimorphic traits (e.g., body size or composition). However, we investigated whether assimilation efficiency (AE), an intermediate step between dietary intake and allocation, can also vary between the sexes. Specifically, we tested whether sex-based differences in AE can explain variation in phenotypic traits. We measured morphometric characteristics (i.e., body length, mass, condition, and musculature) and AE of total energy, crude protein, and crude fat in post-reproductive adult Children's pythons (which exhibit a limited female-biased sexual size dimorphism) fed both low and high dietary intakes. Meal size was negatively related to AE of energy. Notably, male snakes absorbed crude protein more efficiently and increased epaxial (dorsal) musculature faster than females, which demonstrates a link between AE and phenotype. However, females grew in body length faster but did not absorb any nutrient more efficiently than males. Although our results do not provide a direct link between AE and sexual size dimorphism, they demonstrate that sexual variation in nutrient absorption exists and can contribute to other types of sex-based differences in phenotype (i.e., sexual dimorphism in growth of musculature). Hence, testing the broader applicability of AE's role in sexually dimorphic traits among other species is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-389
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Dietary intake
  • Digestive efficiency
  • Growth rate
  • Python
  • Resource allocation
  • Snake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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