Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procbThe Royal Society PublishingProceedings BAboutBrowse by SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Proc Biol Sci. 2004 April 22; 271(1541): 771–783.
PMCID: PMC1691662

Do sexual ornaments demonstrate heightened condition-dependent expression as predicted by the handicap hypothesis?


The handicap hypothesis of sexual selection predicts that sexual ornaments have evolved heightened condition-dependent expression. The prediction has only recently been subject to experimental investigation. Many of the experiments are of limited value as they: (i) fail to compare condition dependence in sexual ornaments with suitable non-sexual trait controls; (ii) do not adequately account for body size variation; and (iii) typically consider no stress and extreme stress manipulations rather than a range of stresses similar to those experienced in nature. There is also a dearth of experimental studies investigating the genetic basis of condition dependence. Despite the common claim that sexual ornaments are condition-dependent, the unexpected conclusion from our literature review is that there is little support from well-designed experiments.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (145K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Baker RH, Wilkinson GS. Phylogenetic analysis of sexual dimorphism and eye-span allometry in stalk-eyed flies (Diopsidae). Evolution. 2001 Jul;55(7):1373–1385. [PubMed]
  • Blount Jonathan D, Metcalfe Neil B, Birkhead Tim R, Surai Peter F. Carotenoid modulation of immune function and sexual attractiveness in zebra finches. Science. 2003 Apr 4;300(5616):125–127. [PubMed]
  • Blount Jonathan D, Metcalfe Neil B, Arnold Kathryn E, Surai Peter F, Devevey Godefroy L, Monaghan Pat. Neonatal nutrition, adult antioxidant defences and sexual attractiveness in the zebra finch. Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Aug 22;270(1525):1691–1696. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Buchanan KL, Spencer KA, Goldsmith AR, Catchpole CK. Song as an honest signal of past developmental stress in the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Jun 7;270(1520):1149–1156. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Candolin U. The relationship between signal quality and physical condition: is sexual signalling honest in the three-spined stickleback? Anim Behav. 1999 Dec;58(6):1261–1267. [PubMed]
  • Candolin U. Increased signalling effort when survival prospects decrease: male-male competition ensures honesty. Anim Behav. 2000 Oct;60(4):417–422. [PubMed]
  • David P, Hingle A, Greig D, Rutherford A, Pomiankowski A, Fowler K. Male sexual ornament size but not asymmetry reflects condition in stalk-eyed flies. Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Nov 22;265(1411):2211–2211. [PMC free article]
  • David P, Bjorksten T, Fowler K, Pomiankowski A. Condition-dependent signalling of genetic variation in stalk-eyed flies. Nature. 2000 Jul 13;406(6792):186–188. [PubMed]
  • Grafen A. Sexual selection unhandicapped by the Fisher process. J Theor Biol. 1990 Jun 21;144(4):473–516. [PubMed]
  • Grether GF. Carotenoid limitation and mate preference evolution: a test of the indicator hypothesis in guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Evolution. 2000 Oct;54(5):1712–1724. [PubMed]
  • Griffith SC. A trade-off between reproduction and a condition-dependent sexually selected ornament in the house sparrow Passer domesticus. Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Jun 7;267(1448):1115–1119. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hill GE, Brawner WR. Melanin-based plumage coloration in the house finch is unaffected by coccidial infection. Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Jun 22;265(1401):1105–1109. [PMC free article]
  • Houde AE, Endler JA. Correlated Evolution of Female Mating Preferences and Male Color Patterns in the Guppy Poecilia reticulata. Science. 1990 Jun 15;248(4961):1405–1408. [PubMed]
  • Houle D. Comparing evolvability and variability of quantitative traits. Genetics. 1992 Jan;130(1):195–204. [PubMed]
  • Iwasa Y, Pomiankowski A. Good parent and good genes models of handicap evolution. J Theor Biol. 1999 Sep 7;200(1):97–109. [PubMed]
  • Henderson L, Jones E, Freemantle M, Howard CA, Jenkinson P, Lambert R, Mackay J, Marshall R, Wilcox P. Extended harvest times are not necessary for the detection of in vitro clastogens in regulatory cytogenetics studies. Mutagenesis. 1996 Jan;11(1):61–67. [PubMed]
  • Jennions MD, Møller AP, Petrie M. Sexually selected traits and adult survival: a meta-analysis. Q Rev Biol. 2001 Mar;76(1):3–36. [PubMed]
  • Jia FY, Greenfield MD, Collins RD. Genetic variance of sexually selected traits in waxmoths: maintenance by genotype x environment interaction. Evolution. 2000 Jun;54(3):953–967. [PubMed]
  • Johnstone RA. Sexual selection, honest advertisement and the handicap principle: reviewing the evidence. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 1995 Feb;70(1):1–65. [PubMed]
  • Kotiaho JS, Simmons LW, Tomkins JL. Towards a resolution of the lek paradox. Nature. 2001 Apr 5;410(6829):684–686. [PubMed]
  • McGraw KJ, Hill GE. Differential effects of endoparasitism on the expression of carotenoid- and melanin-based ornamental coloration. Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Aug 7;267(1452):1525–1531. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • McGraw Kevin J, Mackillop Emiko A, Dale James, Hauber Mark E. Different colors reveal different information: how nutritional stress affects the expression of melanin- and structurally based ornamental plumage. J Exp Biol. 2002 Dec;205(Pt 23):3747–3755. [PubMed]
  • Moczek AP, Emlen DJ. Male horn dimorphism in the scarab beetle, Onthophagus taurus: do alternative reproductive tactics favour alternative phenotypes? Anim Behav. 2000 Feb;59(2):459–466. [PubMed]
  • Ohlsson Thomas, Smith Henrik G, Råberg Lars, Hasselquist Dennis. Pheasant sexual ornaments reflect nutritional conditions during early growth. Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Jan 7;269(1486):21–27. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Scheuber Hannes, Jacot Alain, Brinkhof Martin W G. The effect of past condition on a multicomponent sexual signal. Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Sep 7;270(1526):1779–1784. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • van Oosterhout C, Trigg RE, Carvalho GR, Magurran AE, Hauser L, Shaw PW. Inbreeding depression and genetic load of sexually selected traits: how the guppy lost its spots. J Evol Biol. 2003 Mar;16(2):273–281. [PubMed]
  • Wagner WE, Hoback WW. Nutritional effects on male calling behaviour in the variable field cricket. Anim Behav. 1999 Jan;57(1):89–95. [PubMed]
  • Wagner WE, Jr, Reiser MG. The importance of calling song and courtship song in female mate choice in the variable field cricket. Anim Behav. 2000 Jun;59(6):1219–1226. [PubMed]

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society