Good genes, oxidative stress and condition–dependent sexual signals

Torbjörn von Schantz, Staffan Bensch, Mats Grahn, Dennis Hasselquist, Håkan Wittzell

Abstract

The immune and the detoxication systems of animals are characterized by allelic polymorphisms, which underlie individual differences in ability to combat assaults from pathogens and toxic compounds. Previous studies have shown that females may improve offspring survival by selecting mates on the basis of sexual ornaments and signals that honestly reveal health. In many cases the expression of these ornaments appears to be particularly sensitive to oxidative stress. Activated immune and detoxication systems often generate oxidative stress by an extensive production of reactive metabolites and free radicals. Given that tolerance or resistance to toxic compounds and pathogens can be inherited, female choice should promote the evolution of male ornaments that reliably reveal the status of the bearer's level of oxidative stress. Hence, oxidative stress may be one important agent linking the expression of sexual ornaments to genetic variation in fitness–related traits, thus promoting the evolution of female mate choice and male sexual ornamentation, a controversial issue in evolutionary biology ever since Darwin.