Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Sexual selection


Adult sex ratio (ASR) is a central concept in population biology and a key factor in sexual selection, but why do most demographic models ignore sex biases? Vital rates often vary between the sexes and across life history, but their relative contributions to ASR variation remain poorly understood-an essential step to evaluate sex ratio theories in the wild and inform conservation. Here, we combine structured two-sex population models with individual-based mark-recapture data from an intensively monitored polygamous population of snowy plovers. We show that a strongly male-biased ASR (0.63) is primarily driven by sex-specific survival of juveniles rather than adults or dependent offspring. This finding provides empirical support for theories of unbiased sex allocation when sex differences in survival arise after the period of parental investment. Importantly, a conventional model ignoring sex biases significantly overestimated population viability. We suggest that sex-specific population models are essential to understand the population dynamics of sexual organisms: reproduction and population growth are most sensitive to perturbations in survival of the limiting sex. Overall, our study suggests that sex-biased early survival may contribute toward mating system evolution and population persistence, with implications for both sexual selection theory and biodiversity conservation.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biology, Demography, Population, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Gender, Sex


Men score higher than women on measures of sensation-seeking, defined as a willingness to engage in novel or intense activities. This sex difference has been explained in terms of evolved psychological mechanisms or culturally transmitted social norms. We investigated whether sex differences in sensation-seeking have changed over recent years by conducting a meta-analysis of studies using Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale, version V (SSS-V). We found that sex differences in total SSS-V scores have remained stable across years, as have sex differences in Disinhibition and Boredom Susceptibility. In contrast, the sex difference in Thrill and Adventure Seeking has declined, possibly due to changes in social norms or out-dated questions on this sub-scale. Our results support the view that men and women differ in their propensity to report sensation-seeking characteristics, while behavioural manifestations of sensation-seeking vary over time. Sex differences in sensation-seeking could reflect genetically influenced predispositions interacting with socially transmitted information.

Concepts: Male, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Gender, Sociology, Sex, Sexual reproduction, Mating


Sexual selection is driven by competition for mates, and the advantage of a competitor is determined by the number of offspring it produces. Early experiments by Angus Bateman characterized this interaction, and the quantitative relationship between a male’s number of mates and number of offspring is known as the Bateman slope. Sexual dimorphism, one of the most obvious results of sexual selection, largely requires a positive Bateman relationship, and the slope provides an estimate of the potential for sexual selection. However, natural selection from the environment can also influence male success, as can random effects, and some have argued for inclusion of the latter in calculations of mate success. Data from pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) reveal the presence of a positive Bateman slope in each year of a 10-year study. We found no evidence that random effects skewed male mating success; however, substantial yearly variation in the Bateman slope due to predation on fawns was evident. These results support the validity of the Bateman relationship, yet they also demonstrate that environmental or extrinsic influences can limit the potential for sexual selection.

Concepts: Natural selection, Mathematics, Sexual dimorphism, Pronghorn, Sexual selection, Deer, Pecora, Natural environment


Male-specific exaggerated horns are an evolutionary novelty and have diverged rapidly via intrasexual selection. Here, we investigated the function of the conserved sex-determination gene doublesex (dsx) in the Japanese rhinoceros beetle (Trypoxylus dichotomus) using RNA interference (RNAi). Our results show that the sex-specific T. dichotomus dsx isoforms have an antagonistic function for head horn formation and only the male isoform has a role for thoracic horn formation. These results indicate that the novel sex-specific regulation of dsx during horn morphogenesis might have been the key evolutionary developmental event at the transition from sexually monomorphic to sexually dimorphic horns.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Virus, RNA, Insect, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Scarabaeidae, Japanese rhinoceros beetle


Polygynous animals are often highly dimorphic, and show large sex-differences in the degree of intra-sexual competition and aggression, which is associated with biased operational sex ratios (OSR). For socially monogamous, sexually monomorphic species, this relationship is less clear. Among mammals, pair-living has sometimes been assumed to imply equal OSR and low frequency, low intensity intra-sexual competition; even when high rates of intra-sexual competition and selection, in both sexes, have been theoretically predicted and described for various taxa. Owl monkeys are one of a few socially monogamous primates. Using long-term demographic and morphological data from 18 groups, we show that male and female owl monkeys experience intense intra-sexual competition and aggression from solitary floaters. Pair-mates are regularly replaced by intruding floaters (27 female and 23 male replacements in 149 group-years), with negative effects on the reproductive success of both partners. Individuals with only one partner during their life produced 25% more offspring per decade of tenure than those with two or more partners. The termination of the pair-bond is initiated by the floater, and sometimes has fatal consequences for the expelled adult. The existence of floaters and the sporadic, but intense aggression between them and residents suggest that it can be misleading to assume an equal OSR in socially monogamous species based solely on group composition. Instead, we suggest that sexual selection models must assume not equal, but flexible, context-specific, OSR in monogamous species.

Concepts: Human, Male, Female, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Gender, Sex, Primate


The significance of sexual selection, the component of natural selection associated with variation in mating success, is well established for the evolution of animals and plants, but not for the evolution of fungi. Even though fungi do not have separate sexes, most filamentous fungi mate in a hermaphroditic fashion, with distinct sex roles, that is, investment in large gametes (female role) and fertilization by other small gametes (male role). Fungi compete to fertilize, analogous to ‘male-male’ competition, whereas they can be selective when being fertilized, analogous to female choice. Mating types, which determine genetic compatibility among fungal gametes, are important for sexual selection in two respects. First, genes at the mating-type loci regulate different aspects of mating and thus can be subject to sexual selection. Second, for sexual selection, not only the two sexes (or sex roles) but also the mating types can form the classes, the members of which compete for access to members of the other class. This is significant if mating-type gene products are costly, thus signalling genetic quality according to Zahavi’s handicap principle. We propose that sexual selection explains various fungal characteristics such as the observed high redundancy of pheromones at the B mating-type locus of Agaricomycotina, the occurrence of multiple types of spores in Ascomycotina or the strong pheromone signalling in yeasts. Furthermore, we argue that fungi are good model systems to experimentally study fundamental aspects of sexual selection, due to their fast generation times and high diversity of life cycles and mating systems.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Fungus, Sexual selection, Sex, Selection, Amotz Zahavi, Handicap principle


Sexual selection favours traits that confer advantages in the competition for mates. In many cases, such traits are costly to produce and maintain, because the costs help to enforce the honesty of these signals and cues 1 . Some evolutionary models predict that sexual selection also produces costs at the population level, which could limit the ability of populations to adapt to changing conditions and thus increase the risk of extinction2-4. Other models, however, suggest that sexual selection should increase rates of adaptation and enhance the removal of deleterious mutations, thus protecting populations against extinction3, 5, 6. Resolving the conflict between these models is not only important for explaining the history of biodiversity, but also relevant to understanding the mechanisms of the current biodiversity crisis. Previous attempts to test the conflicting predictions produced by these models have been limited to extant species and have thus relied on indirect proxies for species extinction. Here we use the informative fossil record of cytheroid ostracods-small, bivalved crustaceans with sexually dimorphic carapaces-to test how sexual selection relates to actual species extinction. We show that species with more pronounced sexual dimorphism, indicating the highest levels of male investment in reproduction, had estimated extinction rates that were ten times higher than those of the species with the lowest investment. These results indicate that sexual selection can be a substantial risk factor for extinction.

Concepts: Natural selection, Conservation biology, Evolution, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Extinction, Charles Darwin, Dinosaur


Women recover faster from propofol anaesthesia and have been described to have a higher incidence of awareness during surgery, compared to men; an effect that may be inherent in sex differences in propofol metabolism.

Concepts: Male, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Gender, Sex, Sexual reproduction, Mating, Operational sex ratio


Sexually selected traits are often condition-dependent and are expected to be affected by genome-wide distributed deleterious mutations and inbreeding. However, sexual selection is a powerful selective force that can counteract inbreeding through purging of deleterious mutations. Inbreeding and purging of the inbreeding load for sexually selected traits has rarely been studied across natural populations with different degrees of inbreeding. Here we investigate inbreeding effects (measured as marker-based heterozygosity) on condition-dependent sexually selected signalling trait and other morphological traits across islet- and mainland populations (n = 15) of an endemic lizard species (Podarcis gaigeae). Our data suggest inbreeding depression on a condition-dependent sexually selected signalling character among mainland subpopulations with low or intermediate levels of inbreeding, but no sign of inbreeding depression among small and isolated islet populations despite their higher overall inbreeding levels. In contrast, there was no such pattern among ten other morphological traits which are primarily naturally selected and presumably not involved in sexual signalling. These results are in line with purging of recessive deleterious alleles, or purging in combination with stochastic fixation of alleles by genetic drift, for a sexual signalling character in the islet environment, which is characterized by low population sizes and strong sexual selection. Higher clutch sizes in islet populations also raise interesting questions regarding the possibility of antagonistic pleiotropy. Purging and other non-exclusive explanations of our results are discussed.

Concepts: Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Sexual selection, Population genetics, Selection, Genetic drift, Podarcis


The amygdala plays a key role in many affective behaviors and psychiatric disorders that differ between men and women. To test whether human amygdala volume (AV) differs reliably between the sexes, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of AVs reported in MRI studies of age-matched healthy male and female groups. Using four search strategies, we identified 46 total studies (58 matched samples) from which we extracted effect sizes for the sex difference in AV. All data were converted to Hedges g values and pooled effect sizes were calculated using a random-effects model. Each dataset was further meta-regressed against study year and average participant age. We found that uncorrected amygdala volume is about 10% larger in males, with pooled sex difference effect sizes of g=0.581 for right amygdala (κ=28, n=2,022), 0.666 for left amygdala (κ=28, n=2,006), and 0.876 for bilateral amygdala (κ=16, n=1,585) volumes (all p values < 0.001). However, this difference is comparable to the sex differences in intracranial volume (ICV; g=1.186, p<.001, 11.9% larger in males, κ=11) and total brain volume (TBV; g=1.278, p<0.001, 11.5% larger in males, κ=15) reported in subsets of the same studies, suggesting the sex difference in AV is a product of larger brain size in males. Thus we found that among studies reporting AVs normalized for ICV or TBV, sex difference effect sizes were small and not statistically significant: g=0.171 for the right amygdala (p=0.206, κ=13, n=1,560); 0.233 for the left amygdala (p=0.092, κ=12, n=1,512); and 0.257 for bilateral volume (p=0.131, κ=5, n=1,629). These values correspond to less than 0.1% larger corrected right AV and 2.5% larger corrected left AV in males compared to females. In summary, AV is not selectively enhanced in human males, as often claimed. Although we cannot rule out subtle male-female group differences, it is not accurate to refer to the human amygdala as "sexually dimorphic" in volume.

Concepts: Male, Female, Statistical significance, Sexual dimorphism, Sexual selection, Gender, Sex, Meta-analysis