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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Nov 10;106(45):19072-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903327106. Epub 2009 Oct 26.

Sexual dimorphism and directional sexual selection on aposematic signals in a poison frog.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, 1 University Station C0930, Austin TX 78712, USA.


It is commonly assumed that natural selection imposed by predators is the prevailing force driving the evolution of aposematic traits. Here, we demonstrate that aposematic signals are shaped by sexual selection as well. We evaluated sexual selection for coloration brightness in populations of the poison frog Oophaga [Dendrobates] pumilio in Panama's Bocas del Toro archipelago. We assessed female preferences for brighter males by manipulating the perceived brightness of spectrally matched males in two-way choice experiments. We found strong female preferences for bright males in two island populations and weaker or ambiguous preferences in females from mainland populations. Spectral reflectance measurements, coupled with an O. pumilio-specific visual processing model, showed that O. pumilio coloration was significantly brighter in island than in mainland morphs. In one of the island populations (Isla Solarte), males were significantly more brightly colored than females. Taken together, these results provide evidence for directional sexual selection on aposematic coloration and document sexual dimorphism in vertebrate warning coloration. Although aposematic signals have long been upheld as exemplars of natural selection, our results show that sexual selection should not be ignored in studies of aposematic evolution.

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