Sexually selected traits and adult survival: a meta-analysis

Q Rev Biol. 2001 Mar;76(1):3-36. doi: 10.1086/393743.


Traits correlated with male mating success are likely to be subject to sexual selection. Sexually selected characters are thought to be costly to develop and maintain. If males do not vary their investment in sexual traits in relation to their ability to bear the costs, there should be a negative relationship between male longevity or survival and the expression of sexual traits. In particular, a negative relationship is predicted by pure Fisherian models for the evolution of sexual ornaments. The same should also be true for traits that evolve via pleiotropy (e.g., due to sensory exploitation or bias) with no subsequent evolution of condition dependent modification. We collected information on the relationship between traits correlated with male mating rate and estimates of adult male survivorship or life span. In total we obtained 122 samples from 69 studies of 40 species of bird, spider, insect, and fish. In a meta-analysis we calculated the average sample size weighted correlation between trait expression and adult survival. Analyses at the level of samples, studies, and species revealed significant positive relationships (r = 0.08, 0.10, and 0.13, respectively; all P < 0.001). The unweighted correlation at the species level was r = 0.24. In general, males with larger ornaments or weapons, greater body size, or higher rates of courtship showed greater survivorship or longevity. This finding is inconsistent with pure Fisherian models or other models that do not incorporate condition or quality dependent trait expression. It suggests that male investment in sexually selected traits is not fixed but varies in relation to the ability to pay the underlying costs of expressing these characters. Hence, many secondary sexual characters are likely to be condition dependent in their expression.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Phenotype
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Survival Analysis