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Evolution by Sexual Selection

Lookup NU author(s): Emerita Professor Marion Petrie



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Copyright © 2021 Petrie.Charles Darwin published his second book “Sexual selection and the descent of man” in 1871 150 years ago, to try to explain, amongst other things, the evolution of the peacock’s train, something that he famously thought was problematic for his theory of evolution by natural selection. He proposed that the peacock’s train had evolved because females preferred to mate with males with more elaborate trains. This idea was very controversial at the time and it wasn’t until 1991 that a manuscript testing Darwin’s hypothesis was published. The idea that a character could arise as a result of a female preference is still controversial. Some argue that there is no need to distinguish sexual from natural selection and that natural selection can adequately explain the evolution of extravagant characteristics that are characteristic of sexually selected species. Here, I outline the reasons why I think that this is not the case and that Darwin was right to distinguish sexual selection as a distinct process. I present a simple verbal and mathematical model to expound the view that sexual selection is profoundly different from natural selection because, uniquely, it can simultaneously promote and maintain the genetic variation which fuels evolutionary change. Viewed in this way, sexual selection can help resolve other evolutionary conundrums, such as the evolution of sexual reproduction, that are characterised by having impossibly large costs and no obvious immediate benefits and which have baffled evolutionary biologists for a very long time. If sexual selection does indeed facilitate rapid adaptation to a changing environment as I have outlined, then it is very important that we understand the fundamentals of adaptive mate choice and guard against any disruption to this natural process.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Petrie M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Year: 2021

Volume: 9

Print publication date: 01/12/2021

Online publication date: 16/12/2021

Acceptance date: 30/11/2021

Date deposited: 26/01/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2296-701X

Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.


DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2021.786868


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