Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

In Chapter 10, Stephen Shuster provides a comprehensive overview (and contrast) of how sexual selection has been measured and studied in plant systems versus animal systems. One general theme that he emphasizes is the need to reconcile Darwin’s idea that sexual selection tends to be less rigorous than natural selection with the observation that sexual selection would seem to be responsible for many if not most differences between the two genders (in features other than the primary sex organs). In The Origin, Darwin wrote that sexual selection “depends, not on the struggle for existence, but on a struggle between males for possession of the females; the result is not death of the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring. Sexual selection is, therefore, less rigorous than natural selection.” Shuster, by contrast, views sexual selection as being “among the most powerful of evolutionary forces.” The author proposes to reconcile these two stances in evolutionary models that combine quantitative differences in the fitness variances between the sexes (an approach traditionally applied to animal systems) with phenotypic and genotypic correlations underlying reproductive traits among breeding pairs (an approach often taken in plant systems). The net result, he claims, will be the ability to predict the magnitudes of sexual dimorphism and classify mating systems using existing genetic and life history data.

In Chapter 11, Patricia Gowaty and Stephen Hubbell offer a novel perspective on what underlies the individual decision-making process that in turn underlies patterns of mate choice and sexual selection in various species. Their central thesis is that even stochastic variation in various parameters that predict the time available for mating might promote considerable flexibility in individual decision making with regard to mate choice; and that even consistent sex differences in these mating proclivities might therefore, in at least some cases, reflect ecological constraints (habits-of-life considerations) rather than behavioral differences that might otherwise be genetically hardwired between the sexes. The parameters that might impact available time for mating include the probabilities of encountering mates, individual survivorships, mating latencies (times-out between mating events), and fitness distributions, all of which are likely to vary as functions of the natural histories as well as the evolutionary histories of species. Such considerations lead the authors to their switch point theorem, which in principle can quantitatively evaluate what proportion of potential mates in a population a focal individual should find acceptable as mating partners if it is to maximize its relative lifetime fitness.

In an uncharacteristic conceptual lapse, Darwin failed to appreciate that sexual selection (including both male-male competition and female choice) can continue even after copulation has begun. The intrasexual (male-male) component can happen via sperm competition for the fertilization of ova, and the intersexual component can occur via cryptic female

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement