Costs of sexual traits: a mismatch between theoretical considerations and empirical evidence

  title={Costs of sexual traits: a mismatch between theoretical considerations and empirical evidence},
  author={Janne S. Kotiaho},
  journal={Biological Reviews},
  • J. Kotiaho
  • Published 1 August 2001
  • Psychology
  • Biological Reviews
Costs of sexual traits are of central importance to the theory of sexual selection. To qualify as a cost in line with theoretical models, empirical studies must demonstrate that sexual traits cause negative effects on one component of fitness of the trait bearer. Moreover, it must be demonstrated that the costs are differential such that negative effects on fitness are more severe for individuals in poor condition than for individuals in good condition. However, in the current literature, there… 

Sexual Selection and Life History Allocation

Further life history studies of sexually selected traits are required, mindful of the inherent difficulties in quantifying resource acquisition and allocation, not least of which is that these processes are not independent of one another.


  • R. Bonduriansky
  • Psychology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 2007
Empirical evidence suggests that positive allometry may be the exception rather than the rule in sexual traits, that directional sexual selection does not necessarily lead to the evolution of negative allometry, and that many sexual traits exhibit sex differences in allometric intercept rather than slope.

Evolutionarily costly courtship displays in a wolf spider: a test of viability indicator theory

The study suggests that predation is a significant, evolutionary cost that can satisfy viability indicator mechanism assumptions and is a key role in viability indicator models.

Positive allometry of sexually selected traits: Do metabolic maintenance costs play an important role?

  • U. Somjee
  • Biology
    BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology
  • 2021
Energetic costs of maintenance may play a pervasive yet little‐explored role in shaping the relative scaling of sexually selected traits across diverse taxa.

Evaluating performance costs of sexually selected traits

A hypothetical data set is presented that illustrates the perils of ignoring potential compensatory mechanisms when studying the costs of a sexually selected trait and different ways of studying costs are discussed, including analyses of a single sex and of the differences between the sexes.

Incidental Sanctions and the Evolution of Direct Benefits

It is argued that conditional female reproductive tactics may also favor reliable signaling of benefit quality, which may play an important role in determining whether females incur costs or receive benefits from their mates.

Causes of adaptive differences in age-dependent reproductive effort

This thesis examines many implications of this condition-dependent model of ornament and preference evolution for variation in age-dependent allocation to sexual signals and other life history traits and considers the reliance of sexual displays on high levels of nutrient acquisition may help maintain genetic variation in sexual signals.

Measuring natural and sexual selection on breeding values of male display traits in Drosophila serrata

Fundamental to many theories of sexual selection is the expectation that sexual traits, which males use in an attempt to increase mating success, confer costs as well as benefits to individual males.

Compensatory traits and the evolution of male ornaments

The role of compensatory traits in the evolution of reliable ornaments is elucidated and how selection to reduce ornament costs may influence aspects of the phenotype that are not subjected to direct sexual selection is explained.



Costs of sexual selection in natural populations of mammals

  • D. Promislow
  • Biology, Environmental Science
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
  • 1992
It is suggested that in monogamous species the cost of reproduction to females will be similar to that of polygynous species, however, males of monogamy species will be spared the costs of male-male competition and dimorphic growth.

Truth in Advertising: The Kinds of Traits Favored by Sexual Selection

The truth in advertising model describes a mechanism of sexual selection to account for the evolution of the kinds of traits used by males of polygynous species to compete for and attract mates and deemphasizes the traditional dichotomies between the effects ofsexual selection and natural selection.

Good-genes effects in sexual selection

  • A. MøllerR. Alatalo
  • Biology, Psychology
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
  • 1999
The results suggest that viability–based sexual selection is widespread across taxa, and indicate that the effect of good genes as a viability benefit accruing to choosy females is relatively minor.

Mortality costs of sexual dimorphism in birds

In this analysis of mortality patterns across 28 North American passerine bird species, it is shown that sex-biased mortality is positively correlated with both sexual size dimorphism and male plumage brightness, and it is argued that the evolution of male brightness has been constrained by mortality costs.


An experimental study of the mating success and phenotype of male field crickets Gryllus bimaculatus (Orthoptera: Gryllidae) and their offspring reveals that sons of successful males obtain significantly more copulations than sons of unsuccessful males.


  • M. Andersson
  • Biology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 1986
The possibility that the evolution of mating preferences and secondary sex traits can be based on heritable differences in viability is examined with a three‐locus model, based on a monogamous mating system that precludes such a Fisherian mating advantage being required.

Mortality costs of parental care and sexual dimorphism in birds

  • I. OwensP. Bennett
  • Biology
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
  • 1994
The results suggest that, whereas the cost of parental care directly influence adult mortality, the costs of sexual dimorphism are incurred during juvenile growth.


  • M. Kirkpatrick
  • Biology, Psychology
    Evolution; international journal of organic evolution
  • 1982
The primary conclusion of the present paper is that the initial selective advantages for the female preference assumed by Fisher, O'Donald, and many later authors are not necessary for either the origin or subsequent elaboration of mating preferences for traits associated with reduced survivorship.

Sexual selection unhandicapped by the Fisher process.

  • A. Grafen
  • Psychology
    Journal of theoretical biology
  • 1990