Sexual selection and its evolutionary consequences in female animals

Robin M. Hare, Leigh W. Simmons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    101 Citations (Scopus)


    For sexual selection to act on a given sex, there must exist variation in the reproductive success of that sex as a result of differential access to mates or fertilisations. The mechanisms and consequences of sexual selection acting on male animals are well documented, but research on sexual selection acting on females has only recently received attention. Controversy still exists over whether sexual selection acts on females in the traditional sense, and over whether to modify the existing definition of sexual selection (to include resource competition) or to invoke alternative mechanisms (usually social selection) to explain selection acting on females in connection with reproduction. However, substantial evidence exists of females bearing characters or exhibiting behaviours that result in differential reproductive success that are analogous to those attributed to sexual selection in males. Here we summarise the literature and provide substantial evidence of female intrasexual competition for access to mates, female intersexual signalling to potential mates, and postcopulatory mechanisms such as competition between eggs for access to sperm and cryptic male allocation. Our review makes clear that sexual selection acts on females and males in similar ways but sometimes to differing extents: the ceiling for the elaboration of costly traits may be lower in females than in males. We predict that current and future research on female sexual selection will provide increasing support for the parsimony and utility of the existing definition of sexual selection.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)929-956
    Number of pages28
    JournalBiological Reviews
    Issue number3
    Early online date28 Nov 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


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