Males evolve to be more harmful under increased sexual conflict intensity in a seed beetle

Kathryn B. McNamara, Nadia S. Sloan, Sian E. Kershaw, Emile van Lieshout, Leigh W. Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


One conspicuous manifestation of sexual conflict is traumatic mating, in which male genitalia damage the female during copulation. The penis of the seed beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus, is covered in spines that damage the female reproductive tract. Females kick males ostensibly to shorten these harmful copulations. How these iconic conflict behaviors coevolve in response to sexual conflict intensity can provide insight into the economics of these traits. We examined whether male harm and female resistance coevolved in response to elevated sexual conflict. We quantified copulation behavior and female reproductive tract damage of individuals from replicated populations evolving for 32 generations under low or high sexual conflict (female- and male-biased treatments, respectively). First, we permitted females ad libitum matings with males from either sex-ratio treatment, recording her tract damage and longevity. Second, we performed a full-factorial cross of matings by males and females from each of the replicate populations, recording mating and kicking duration and reproductive output. We found manipulation of sexual conflict intensity led to the evolution of male harmfulness, but not female resistance to harm. We also demonstrate that female kicking does not respond to sexual conflict intensity, suggesting it does not function to mitigate male harm in this species. Our findings demonstrate the complexities of behavioral and morphological coevolutionary responses to sexual conflict intensity in an important model species. Lay Summary: Male seed beetles puncture female's reproductive tracts during mating. We show that males evolve to be more harmful to females in populations where there is high sexual conflict intensity, compared to low sexual conflict intensity. Females, however, do not coevolve an ability to resist harm. Females kick males during copulation in an apparent attempt to remove males. This kicking behavior did not evolve in response to male harmfulness, suggesting it does not mitigate male-imposed costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-597
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


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