• allometry;
  • exaggeration;
  • handicap principle;
  • honesty;
  • ornaments;
  • signalling


The handicap theory of sexual selection suggests that females prefer mates who display extravagant ornaments that advertise their quality or condition. It is often assumed that as such ornamental traits undergo sexually-selected exaggeration, they must inevitably become more sensitive to condition, and thus more informative. Here, we show that this is not necessarily the case. Depending on the precise form of the relationship between trait size and cost, expression may become more or less condition-dependent as the trait undergoes exaggeration, or may remain unchanged. This leads us to question how much of the information content of sexual signals can be attributed to sexual selection, and how much to pre-existing, naturally-selected condition-dependence.