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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

The relative effects of pace of life-history and habitat characteristics on the evolution of sexual ornaments: A comparative assessment

Sowersby, Will; Eckerstrom-Liedholm, Simon; Rowinski, Piotr K.; Balogh, Julia; Eiler, Stefan; Upstone, Joseph D.; Gonzalez-Voyer, Alejandro; Rogell, Bjorn;


Selection may favor greater investment into sexual ornaments when opportunities for future reproduction are limited, for example, under high adult mortality. However, predation, a key driver of mortality, typically selects against elaborate sexual ornaments. Here, we examine the evolution of sexual ornaments in killifishes, which have marked contrasts in life-history strategy among species and inhabit environments that differ in accessibility to aquatic predators. We first assessed if the size of sexual ornaments (unpaired fins) influenced swimming performance. Second, we investigated whether the evolution of larger ornamental fins is driven primarily by the pace of life-history (investment into current vs. future reproduction) or habitat type (a proxy for predation risk). We found that larger fins negatively affected swimming performance. Further, males from species inhabiting ephemeral habitats, with lower predation risk, had larger fins and greater sexual dimorphism in fin size, compared to males from more accessible permanent habitats. We show that enlarged ornamental fins, which impair locomotion, evolve more frequently in environments that are less accessible to predators, without clear associations to life-history strategy. Our results provide a rare link between the evolution of sexual ornaments, effects on locomotion performance, and natural selection on ornament size potentially through habitat differences in predation risk.


Fins; killifish; life-history theory; secondary sexual traits; sexual selection

Published in


2022, volume: 76, number: 1, pages: 114-127
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Sowersby, Will
Osaka City University
Eckerstrom-Liedholm, Simon
Stockholm University
Rowinski, Piotr K.
Stockholm University
Balogh, Julia
Stockholm University
Eiler, Stefan
Stockholm University
Upstone, Joseph D.
Stockholm University
Gonzalez-Voyer, Alejandro
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Stockholm University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources

UKÄ Subject classification

Fish and Aquacultural Science

Publication Identifiers


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