What is responsible for the differences between the sexes in so many animals, from the brilliant plumage of birds of paradise to the antlers on deer? And why are the traits that distinguish the sexes sometimes apparently detrimental to survival? Even when they look more or less alike, why do males and females sometimes behave differently? Questions like these have intrigued scientists and the public alike for many years, and new discoveries are showing us both how wildly variable the natural world is, and how some basic principles can help explain much of that variation. Like natural selection, sexual selection is a process that results from differential representation of genes in successive generations. Under sexual selection, however, the crucial characteristics that determine whether an individual reproduces depend on sexual competition, rather than survival ability.
This Very Short Introduction considers the history of our understanding of sexual selection, from Darwin's key insights to the modern day. Considering the investment animals place on reproduction, variation in mating systems, sexual conflict, and the origin of sexual dimorphism, Marlene Zuk and Leigh Simmons discuss questions such as whether females can really choose between males on aesthetic grounds, and how sexual conflict is resolved in different species. They conclude with a consideration of the thorny question of how, and even if, sexual selection theory applies to humans.
Marlene Zuk, Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and Leigh W. Simmons, Professor in the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia, and Director of the UWA Centre for Evolutionary Biology.
1: Darwin's Other Big Idea
2: Choosing from the field of competitors
3: Sex roles and stereotypes
4: Sexual selection after mating
5: Sexual conflict
6: Mating systems, or who goes with whom, and for how long
7: How Sex Makes Species Survive