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Understanding the evolution of sexual ornaments, and particularly that of female sexual ornaments, is an enduring challenge in evolutionary biology. Key to this challenge are establishing the relationship between ornament expression and female reproductive investment, and determining the genetic basis underpinning such relationship. Advances in genomics provide unprecedented opportunities to study the genetic architecture of sexual ornaments in model species. Here, we present a quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of a female sexual ornament, the comb of the fowl, Gallus gallus, using a large-scale intercross between red junglefowl and a domestic line, selected for egg production. First, we demonstrate that female somatic investment in comb reflects female reproductive investment. Despite a trade-off between reproductive and skeletal investment mediated by the mobilization of skeletal minerals for egg production, females with proportionally large combs also had relatively high skeletal investment. Second, we identify a major QTL for bisexual expression of comb mass and several QTL specific to female comb mass. Importantly, QTL for comb mass were nonrandomly clustered with QTL for female reproductive and skeletal investment on chromosomes one and three. Together, these results shed light onto the physiological and genetic architecture of a female ornament.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





86 - 98


Animals, Bone Density, Chickens, Female, Genotype, Phenotype, Quantitative Trait Loci, Reproduction, Sex Characteristics