, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 1-16

Primate sexual swellings as coevolved signal systems

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Abstract

Many female catarrhine primates possess visually conspicuous organs that apparently function to increase the sexual interest of adult male conspecifics around the time the female is ovulating—i.e. sexual swellings. The hypothesized functional benefits for both sexes of these sexual swellings are reviewed (honest signaling; paternity confusion; paternity confidence and paternal investment; protection; incitement of precopulatory male-male competition; and postcopulatory sexual selection), as well as an additional hypothesis that has not yet been applied to this problem (sensory exploitation). Currently available evidence is presented that supports or fails to support each of these hypotheses. Predictions associated with broad groupings of these hypotheses, which could be tested in noninvasive field studies, are then presented. Ecological circumstances are discussed that could have led to differential mating success among female primates, and hence to sexual selection on females and directional evolution of sexual swellings. It is concluded that the available evidence does not support the paternity confidence-paternal investment hypothesis; that the paternity confusion hypothesis lacks empirical support, but could still be viable; and that insufficient data exists at present to rigorously test the other hypotheses. The ecological factors that may have led to differential reproductive success among females as a function of mating frequency or mate choice likewise require further empirical investigation.