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Ornaments, weapons and aggressive behaviours may evolve in female animals by mate choice and intrasexual competition for mating opportunities-the standard forms of sexual selection in males. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that selection tends to operate in different ways in males and females, with female traits more often mediating competition for ecological resources, rather than mate acquisition. Two main solutions have been proposed to accommodate this disparity. One is to expand the concept of sexual selection to include all mechanisms related to fecundity; another is to adopt an alternative conceptual framework-the theory of social selection-in which sexual selection is one component of a more general form of selection resulting from all social interactions. In this study, we summarize the history of the debate about female ornaments and weapons, and discuss potential resolutions. We review the components of fitness driving ornamentation in a wide range of systems, and show that selection often falls outside the limits of traditional sexual selection theory, particularly in females. We conclude that the evolution of these traits in both sexes is best understood within the unifying framework of social selection.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





2274 - 2293


Animals, Biological Evolution, Choice Behavior, Competitive Behavior, Ecosystem, Female, Fertility, Genetic Fitness, Male, Mating Preference, Animal, Phenotype, Selection, Genetic, Sex Characteristics