Honest olfactory ornamentation in a female-dominant primate.
Sexual selection theory predicts that potential mates or competitors signal their quality to conspecifics. Whereas evidence of honest visual or vocal signals in males abounds, evidence of honest signalling via scent or by females is scarce. We previously showed that scent marks in male lemurs seasonally encode information about individual heterozygosity - a reliable predictor of immunocompetence and survivorship. As female lemurs dominate males, compete over resources, and produce sexually differentiated scent marks that likely evolved via direct selection, here we tested whether females also advertise genetic quality via olfactory cues. During the breeding season specifically, individual heterozygosity correlated negatively with the diversity of fatty acids (FAs) expressed in labial secretions and positively with the diversity of heavy FA esters. As odour-gene relationships predictive of health and survivorship emerged during a period critical to mate choice and female competition, we posit that genital scent marks function as honest olfactory ornaments in females.
Boulet, M; Crawford, JC; Charpentier, MJE; Drea, CM
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