Ornaments or offspring? Female sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) trade off carotenoids between spines and eggs

J Evol Biol. 2006 Mar;19(2):431-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2005.01018.x.


Hypotheses and models to explain female ornaments often assume that the elaborated traits are condition dependent; nevertheless, few empirical studies have addressed this topic. We studied a population of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in which the females have conspicuous, carotenoid-based red coloration to their pelvic spines. The red coloration seems not to be condition dependent, as coloration is negatively associated with age and body length and not associated with condition. Furthermore, redder females did not have a lower density of leucocytes. We found a negative association between the females' red carotenoid-based coloration in the spines and the amount of carotenoids in the female's gonads. Males choosing red-coloured females will fertilize eggs with small amounts of carotenoids and appear not to gain any benefit from their mates' phenotypic quality that could result in offspring of improved quality. These results do not support the 'direct selection hypothesis' to explain the existence of the female ornaments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Erythrocyte Count
  • Female
  • Fresh Water
  • Genitalia, Female / physiology
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Norway
  • Ovum / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Smegmamorpha / anatomy & histology*
  • Smegmamorpha / blood
  • Spine / physiology


  • Carotenoids