Reproductive competition promotes the evolution of female weaponry

Nicola L. Watson, Leigh W. Simmons


Secondary sexual traits in females are a relatively rare phenomenon. Empirical studies have focused on the role of male mate choice in their evolution; however, recently it has been suggested that secondary sexual traits in females are more likely to be under selection via reproductive competition. We investigated female competition and the influence of female phenotype on fitness in Onthophagus sagittarius, a species of dung beetle that exhibits female-specific horns. We compared reproductive fitness when females were breeding in competition versus breeding alone and found that competition for breeding resources reduced fitness for all females, but that smaller individuals suffered a greater fitness reduction than larger individuals. When females were matched for body size, those with the longest horns gained higher reproductive fitness. The fitness function was positive and linear, favouring increased horn expression. Thus, we present evidence that female body size and horn size in O. sagittarius are under directional selection via competition for reproductive resources. Our study is a rare example of female contest competition selecting for female weaponry.


    • Received December 18, 2009.
    • Accepted February 11, 2010.
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