Sexually selected skin colour is heritable and related to fecundity in a non-human primate

Constance Dubuc, Sandra Winters, William L. Allen, Lauren J.N. Brent, Julie Cascio, Dario Maestripieri, Angelina V. Ruiz-Lambides, Anja Widdig, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Sexual selection promotes the prevalence of heritable traits that increase an individual’s reproductive rate. Despite theoretically strong directional selection, sexually selected traits can show inter-individual variation. Here, we investigate whether red skin ornamentation, a rare example of a male mammalian trait involved in mate attraction, influences fecundity and is heritable in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), and explore the mechanisms that are involved in maintaining trait variation. Interestingly, the trait is expressed by and is attractive to both sexes. We collected facial images of 266 freeranging individuals and modelled skin redness and darkness to rhesus macaque vision. We used 20 years of genetic parentage data to calculate selection gradients on the trait and perform heritability analyses. Results show that males who were both darkly coloured and high-ranking enjoyed higher fecundity. Female skin redness was positively linked to fecundity, although it remains unclear whether this influences male selectiveness. Heritability explained 10–15% of the variation in redness and darkness, and up to 30% for skin darkness when sexes are considered separately, suggesting sex-influenced inheritance. Our results suggest that inter-individual variation is maintained through condition-dependence, with an added effect of balancing selection on male skin darkness, providing rare evidence for a mammalian trait selected through inter-sexual selection.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number20141602
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1794
    StatePublished - Sep 24 2014


    • Ornaments
    • Quantitative genetics
    • Selection gradient
    • Sexual selection
    • Signalling

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
    • General Immunology and Microbiology
    • General Environmental Science
    • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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