The evolution of animal weapons

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Abstract

Males in many species invest substantially in structures that are used in combat with rivals over access to females. These weapons can attain extreme proportions and have diversified in form repeatedly. I review empirical literature on the function and evolution of sexually selected weapons to clarify important unanswered questions for future research. Despite their many shapes and sizes, and the multitude of habitats within which they function, animal weapons share many properties: They evolve when males are able to defend spatially restricted critical resources, they are typically the most variable morphological structures of these species, and this variation honestly reflects among-individual differences in body size or quality. What is not clear is how, or why, these weapons diverge in form. The potential for male competition to drive rapid divergence in weapon morphology remains one of the most exciting and understudied topics in sexual selection research today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-413
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
Volume39
DOIs
StatePublished - 2008

Keywords

  • Animal diversity
  • Antlers
  • Horns
  • Male competition
  • Sexual selection
  • Tusks

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