A Mechanism of Extreme Growth and Reliable Signaling in Sexually Selected Ornaments and Weapons
Many male animals wield ornaments or weapons of exaggerated proportions. We propose that increased cellular sensitivity to signaling through the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) pathway may be responsible for the extreme growth of these structures. We document how rhinoceros beetle horns, a sexually selected weapon, are more sensitive to nutrition and more responsive to perturbation of the insulin/IGF pathway than other body structures. We then illustrate how enhanced sensitivity to insulin/IGF signaling in a growing ornament or weapon would cause heightened condition sensitivity and increased variability in expression among individuals—critical properties of reliable signals of male quality. The possibility that reliable signaling arises as a by-product of the growth mechanism may explain why trait exaggeration has evolved so many different times in the context of sexual selection.