Function of weaponry in females: the use of horns in intrasexual competition for resources in female Soay sheep

Biol Lett. 2007 Dec 22;3(6):651-4. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0278.


In many species, females show reduced expression of a trait that is under sexual selection in males, and this expression is thought to be maintained through genetic associations with the male phenotype. However, there is also the potential for the female trait to convey an advantage in intrasexual conflicts over resources. We tested this hypothesis in a feral population of Soay sheep, in which males and females have a polymorphism for horn development, producing either full (normal horned), reduced (scurred) or no (polled, females only) horns. During the lambing period, females who possessed horns were more likely to initiate and win aggressive interactions, independent of age, weight and birthing status. The occurrence of aggression was also context dependent, decreasing over the lambing period and associated with local density. Our results demonstrate that a trait that confers benefits to males during intrasexual competition for mates may also be used by females in intrasexual competition over resources: males use weaponry to gain mates, whereas females use weaponry to gain food.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Breeding
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Female
  • Horns / physiology*
  • Mating Preference, Animal
  • Population Density
  • Seasons
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • Sheep / anatomy & histology
  • Sheep / physiology*