A protective role for the lion's mane has long been assumed but this assumption has never been tested. We compared patterns of injury, mane development and adult mane morphology in a population of African lions and found no compelling evidence that the mane conferred effective protection against wounding. The mane area was not a specific target of attacks, and injuries to the mane area were not associated with higher mortality than other injuries. Regions of the mane that were most frequently attacked did not show earlier onset of mane growth in subadult males or longer/darker mane hair in adult males. Adult males appeared to be wounded less frequently on the mane area than predicted by surface area, but it is unclear whether this trend was only caused by observer bias from decreased visibility. We conclude that, although the mane may have conferred protection during the early evolution of the trait, protection appears to be secondary to the strong sexually selected advantages of the mane as a condition-dependent ornament.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the Tanzania Wildlife Research Center and Tanzania National Parks for permission and B. Sabol, M. Craft, I. Taylor, A. Pusey, M. Borner and J. Grinnell for assistance with data collection. Supported by National Science Foundation grants 9903416 and 9709212 and the University of Minnesota Graduate School, the Dayton–Wilkie fund, MGM Grand, Anna Club Toys and D. Davies.