Common features of sexual dimorphism in the cranial airways of different human populations

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Nov;146(3):414-22. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21596. Epub 2011 Aug 24.


Sexual dimorphism in the human craniofacial system is an important feature of intraspecific variation in recent and fossil humans. Although several studies have reported different morphological patterns of sexual dimorphism in different populations, this study searches for common morphological aspects related to functional anatomy of the respiratory apparatus. 3D geometric morphometrics were used to test the hypothesis that due to higher daily energy expenditure and associated greater respiratory air consumption as well as differences in body composition, males should have absolutely and relatively greater air passages in the bony cranial airways than females. We measured 25 3D landmarks in five populations (N = 212) of adult humans from different geographic regions. Male average cranial airways were larger in centroid sizes than female ones. Males tended to show relatively taller piriform apertures and, more consistently, relatively taller internal nasal cavities and choanae than females. Multivariate regressions and residual analysis further indicated that after standardizing to the same size, males still show relatively larger airway passages than females. Because the dimensions of the choanae are limiting factors for air transmission towards the noncranial part of the respiratory system, the identified sex-specific differences in cranial airways, possibly shared among human populations, may be linked with sex-specific differences in body size, composition, and energetics. These findings may be important to understanding trends in hominin facial evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Physical*
  • Cephalometry*
  • Female
  • Fossils
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*