Intra-sexual selection in cooperative mammals and birds : why are females not bigger and better armed?

17 Apr 2014

In cooperatively breeding mammals and birds, intra-sexual reproductive competition among females may often render variance in reproductive success higher among females than males, leading to the prediction that intra-sexual selection in such species may have yielded the differential exaggeration of competitive traits among females. However, evidence to date suggests that female-biased reproductive variance in such species is rarely accompanied by female-biased sexual dimorphisms. We illustrate the problem with data from wild Damaraland mole-rat, Fukomys damarensis, societies: the variance in lifetime reproductive success among females appears to be higher than that among males, yet males grow faster, are much heavier as adults and sport larger skulls and incisors (the weapons used for fighting) for their body lengths than females, suggesting that intra-sexual selection has nevertheless acted more strongly on the competitive traits of males. We then consider potentially general mechanisms that could explain these disparities by tempering the relative intensity of selection for competitive trait exaggeration among females in cooperative breeders. Key among these may be interactions with kin selection that could nevertheless render the variance in inclusive fitness lower among females than males, and fundamental aspects of the reproductive biology of females that may leave reproductive conflict among females more readily resolved without overt physical contests.