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J Evol Biol. 2008 Sep;21(5):1227-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01575.x. Epub 2008 Jul 8.

No fecundity cost of female secondary sexual trait expression in the horned beetle Onthophagus sagittarius.

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  • 1Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092), The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia.


Typically males bear the products of sexual selection in the form of ornaments and/or weapons used to compete for and attract females. Secondary sexual traits in females have been thought of as the product of correlated responses to sexual selection on males. However, there is increasing phylogenetic evidence that female secondary sexual traits can arise independently of selection on males, and may be subject to sexual selection. Theoretical models of the evolution of female ornamentation via male mate choice have assumed that females suffer a cost of ornament expression via reduced fecundity, and hence female ornaments are less likely to evolve than male ornaments. In the dung beetle Onthophagus sagittarius, there has been an independent evolutionary origin of horns in females that are qualitatively different from the horns produced by males. We use this system as a model to examine the costs of horn expression for females within a life-history context. We identified a longevity cost of reproduction for females that was independent of horn expression. Large females lived longer, and after controlling for lifespan, had a higher lifetime fecundity, and invested more heavily in maternal provisioning than did small females. We found no evidence of a cost to females of investment in horns. Rather, the rate of increase in fecundity and horn expression with body size were equal, so that absolute horn size provides an accurate indicator of body size and maternal quality. The effects we observe were independent of female contest competition and/or male mate choice, which were excluded in our experimental protocol. However, we speculate on the potential functional contributions female horns might make to female fitness.

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