The evolution of conspicuous sexually selected traits, such as horns or antlers, has fascinated biologists for more than a century. Elaborate traits can only evolve if they substantially increase reproduction, because they probably incur survival costs to the bearer. Total selection on these traits, however, includes sexual selection on sires and viability selection on offspring and can be influenced by changes in each of these components. Non-random associations between paternal phenotype and offspring viability may thus affect total selection on sexually selected traits. Long-term data on wild bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) provide the first evidence in nature that association between paternal phenotype and lamb viability strengthens total selection on horn size of adult rams, a sexually selected trait. The association of paternal horn length and offspring viability was sexually antagonistic: long-horned males sired sons with high viability but daughters of low viability. These results shed new light on the evolutionary dynamics of an iconic sexually selected trait and have important implications for sustainable wildlife management.
Keywords: sexual antagonism; sexual selection; total selection; viability selection.