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Although Charles Darwin believed that the male lion's mane existed
to blunt the attacks of other lions, its actual purpose long
remained a mystery. However, 30 years of lion observations and some
elegant new experiments have now created a comprehensive picture of
its function. As explained by Peyton West, whose research in East
Africa finally solved the puzzle of the mane's significance, lion
manes are sexually selected traits that proclaim a male's fighting
ability and nutritional status. Both opponents and mates take
advantage of this information to assess a lion's overall fitness,
but the long, black mane that females desire and males respect has a
serious drawback in the form of heat stress. This consequence is
severe enough that lions in the hottest climates have little or no
mane at all, raising the possibility that increased global
temperatures may cause lions with dark, luxurious manes to be things
of the past.
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