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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 22;270(1529):2159-65.

Nonlinear and correlational sexual selection on 'honest' female ornamentation.

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  • 1Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9TS, UK.


Female ornamentation has long been overlooked because of the greater prevalence of elaborate displays in males. However, the circumstances under which females would benefit from honestly signalling their quality are limited. Females are not expected to invest in ornamentation unless the fitness benefits of the ornament exceed those derived from investing the resources directly into offspring. It has been proposed that when females gain direct benefits from mating, females may instead be selected for ornamentation that deceives males about their reproductive state. In the empidid dance flies, males frequently provide nuptial gifts and it is usually only the female that is ornamented. Female traits in empidids, such as abdominal sacs and enlarged pinnate leg scales, have been proposed to 'deceive' males into matings by disguising egg maturity. We quantified sexual selection in the dance fly Rhamphomyia tarsata and found escalating, quadratic selection on pinnate scales and that pinnate scales honestly reflect female fecundity. Mated females had a larger total number and more mature eggs than unmated females, highlighting a potential benefit rather than a cost of male mate choice. We also show correlational selection on female pinnate scales and fecundity. Correlational selection, equivalent investment patterns or increased nutrition from nuptial gifts may all maintain honesty in female ornamentation.

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