Female ornamentation and the fecundity trade-off in a sex-role reversed pipefish

Kenyon B. Mobley, John R. Morrongiello, Matthew Warr, Dianne J. Bray, Bob B.M. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual ornaments found only in females are a rare occurrence in nature. One explanation for this is that female ornaments are costly to produce and maintain and, therefore, females must trade-off resources related to reproduction to promote ornament expression. Here, we investigate whether a trade-off exists between female ornamentation and fecundity in the sex-role reversed, wide-bodied pipefish, Stigmatopora nigra. We measured two components of the disk-shaped, ventral-striped female ornament, body width, and stripe thickness. After controlling for the influence of body size, we found no evidence of a cost of belly width or stripe thickness on female fecundity. Rather, females that have larger ornaments have higher fecundity and thus accurately advertise their reproductive value to males without incurring a cost to fecundity. We also investigated the relationship between female body size and egg size and found that larger females suffer a slight decrease in egg size and fecundity, although this decrease was independent of female ornamentation. More broadly, considered in light of similar findings in other taxa, lack of an apparent fecundity cost of ornamentation in female pipefish underscores the need to revisit theoretical assumptions concerning the evolution of female ornamentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9516-9525
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • allometry
  • cost of reproduction
  • female competition
  • honest signaling
  • mate choice
  • sexual selection

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