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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.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • 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]
  • 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]

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