Sexual selection and speciation in mammals, butterflies and spiders

Matthew J. G. Gage, Geoffrey A. Parker, Sören Nylin, Christer Wiklund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)


Recently refined evolutionary theories propose that sexual selection and reproductive conflict could be drivers of speciation. Male and female reproductive optima invariably differ because the potential reproductive rate of males almost always exceeds that of females: females are selected to maximize mate ‘quality’, while males can increase fitness through mate ‘quantity’. A dynamic, sexually selected conflict therefore exists in which ‘competitive’ males are selected to override the preference tactics evolved by ‘choosy’ females. The wide variation across taxa in mating systems therefore generates variance in the outcome of intrasexual conflict and the strength of sexual selection: monandry constrains reproductive heterozygosity and allows female choice to select and maintain particular (preferred) genes; polyandry promotes reproductive heterozygosity and will more likely override female choice. Two different theories predict how sexual selection might influence speciation. Traditional ideas indicate that increased sexual selection (and hence conflict) generates a greater diversity of male reproductive strategies to be counteracted by female mate preferences, thus providing elevated potentials for speciation as more evolutionary avenues of male–female interaction are created. A less intuitively obvious theory proposes that increased sexual selection and conflict constrains speciation by reducing the opportunities for female mate choice under polyandry. We use a comparative approach to test these theories by investigating whether two general measures of sexual selection and the potential for sexual conflict have influenced speciation. Sexual size dimorphism (across 480 mammalian genera, 105 butterfly genera and 148 spider genera) and degree of polyandry (measured as relative testes size in mammals (72 genera) and mating frequency in female butterflies (54 genera)) showed no associations with the variance in speciosity. Our results therefore show that speciation occurs independently of sexual selection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2309-2316
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1507
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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