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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Apr 13;96(8):4478-81.

A tradeoff between immunocompetence and sexual ornamentation in domestic fowl.

Author information

  • 1Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands. s.verhulst@biol.rug.nl

Abstract

Females often select their mates on the basis of the size or intensity of sexual ornaments, and it is thought that such traits are reliable indicators of male quality because the costliness of these traits prevents cheating. The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis is a recently proposed mechanistic explanation of these costs and states that males carry ornaments at the expense of their resistance to disease and parasites. The tradeoff between immunocompetence and sexual ornamentation was hypothesized to arise as a consequence of the dual effect of androgens on ornamentation (+) and immune function (-). To test this hypothesis, we compared comb size between male domestic chickens Gallus domesticus of lines divergently selected for antibody responses to sheep erythrocytes (three lines: selected for low response or high response and a control line). The importance of comb size in inter- and intrasexual selection is well established, and comb size is strongly dependent on testosterone level. Comb size was larger in the males of the low line than in the high line, and comb size of control males was intermediate, indicating a tradeoff between ornamentation and immunocompetence. Testosterone (T) levels varied in a similar fashion (TLow > TControl > THigh), suggesting that this hormone could mediate the tradeoff between ornamentation and immunocompetence. These results support the idea that a tradeoff with immune function may constrain the expression of secondary sexual ornaments.

PMID:
10200287
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC16357
Free PMC Article

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