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The paradigmatic power of sexual selection


Nearly a decade ago, Darwin’s thinking on sexual selection was considered by numerous scientists to be overdue for revision. At the 169th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, researchers took “dead aim at one of Charles Darwin’s pet evolutionary theories – the theory of sexual selection, which says that males should compete among themselves for access to mates, or compete for the favours of choosy females.” Two leading voices were those of Joan Roughgarden (“There are too many exceptions for the theory to hold”) and Patricia Adair Gowaty, who said that the theory may still hold, but researchers have been accepting it without good evidence (“What’s wrong is our failure to test the theory adequately”). It has taken a long time for these critiques to mature, but we are now in a position to revisit this issue because some crucial experiments have been repeated. To start, let’s remind ourselves of Darwin’s much-cited words:

“The female, on the other hand, with the rarest exceptions, is less eager than the male. [. . .] she is coy, and may often be seen endeavouring for a long time to escape from the male. Every observer of the habits of animals will be able to call to mind instances of this kind.”
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871) Part Two – Sexual Selection, Chapter VIII – Principles of Sexual Selection, page 273.

A new sexual selection study replicates an iconic 1948 study and finds it flawed. For more, go here.


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