Sexual Selection and Experimental Evolution


Sexual selection is a potent force shaping multiple aspects of the interaction between the sexes, including the characters underlying reproductive success and sexual conflict, and may play an important role in determining the viability of populations. Experimental evolution is a methodological approach in which researchers either act as selective agents or establish the selective pressures operating on individuals to investigate changes in traits across generations and the genetic underpinning of these changes. Experimental evolution replicates the evolutionary process under controlled conditions and, by doing so, offers exceptional insights into the role of variation, selection and adaptation in evolution. Applied to the study of pre‐copulatory (before mating) and post‐copulatory (after mating) sexual selection, experimental evolution proves critical to understand the evolutionary consequences of male–male competition and female mate choice, and the repercussions of concurrent or divergent interests between the sexes in regard to reproduction.

Key Concepts:

  • Experimental evolution is a methodological approach to study adaptation under controlled experimental conditions.

  • Sexual selection shapes the characters underlying reproductive success.

  • Experimental evolution is a powerful tool for understanding the evolutionary consequences of sexual selection and sexual conflict.

Keywords: adaptation; artificial selection; female choice; microevolution; laboratory natural selection; laboratory sexual selection; reproduction; sexual conflict; sexually antagonistic coevolution; sperm competition

Figure 1.

Evolutionary divergence in the shape of the male Onthophagus taurus copulatory organ (aedeagus) after 19 generations of experimental evolution. (a) Landmarks A‐F used to measure the dimensions of the two components of the aedeagus, the parameres (par) and the phalobase (ph), which are delineated by landmarks A‐B‐C‐G and D‐E‐F‐G respectively. (b) Divergence in the shape of the aedeagus between lines subjected to a selection protocol of enforced monogamy and lines where sexual selection was present. Variation in shape is described by a single variable: higher positive scores characterise longer and thinner aedeagi, whereas higher negative scores characterise shorter and wider aedeagi. Data are presented as mean shape (columns) and standard error of the mean (discontinuous lines). Reproduced, with permission, from Simmons et al..



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Garcia‐Gonzalez, Francisco(Jan 2011) Sexual Selection and Experimental Evolution. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022859]