Selection on an extreme weapon in the frog-legged leaf beetle (Sagra femorata)

Devin M. O'Brien, Masako Katsuki, Douglas J. Emlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Biologists have been fascinated with the extreme products of sexual selection for decades. However, relatively few studies have characterized patterns of selection acting on ornaments and weapons in the wild. Here, we measure selection on a wild population of weapon-bearing beetles (frog-legged leaf beetles: Sagra femorata) for two consecutive breeding seasons. We consider variation in both weapon size (hind leg length) and in relative weapon size (deviations from the population average scaling relationship between hind leg length and body size), and provide evidence for directional selection on weapon size per se and stabilizing selection on a particular scaling relationship in this population. We suggest that whenever growth in body size is sensitive to external circumstance such as nutrition, then considering deviations from population-level scaling relationships will better reflect patterns of selection relevant to evolution of the ornament or weapon than will variation in trait size per se. This is because trait-size versus body-size scaling relationships approximate underlying developmental reaction norms relating trait growth with body condition in these species. Heightened condition-sensitive expression is a hallmark of the exaggerated ornaments and weapons favored by sexual selection, yet this plasticity is rarely reflected in the way we think about—and measure—selection acting on these structures in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2584-2598
Number of pages15
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Animal weapons
  • mating systems
  • reaction norms
  • sexual selection


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