Why Sexually Selected Weapons Are Not Ornaments

Erin L. McCullough, Christine W. Miller, Douglas J. Emlen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


The elaboration and diversification of sexually selected weapons remain poorly understood. We argue that progress in this topic has been hindered by a strong bias in sexual selection research, and a tendency for weapons to be conflated with ornaments used in mate choice. Here, we outline how male–male competition and female choice are distinct mechanisms of sexual selection, and why weapons and ornaments are fundamentally different types of traits. We call for research on the factors contributing to weapon divergence, the potential for male–male competition to drive speciation, and the specific use of weapons in the context of direct fights versus displays. Given that weapons are first and foremost fighting structures, biomechanical approaches are an especially promising direction for understanding weapon design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)742-751
Number of pages10
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • biomechanics
  • diversity
  • male-male competition
  • sexual selection
  • weapons


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