Temperature as a modulator of sexual selection

Roberto García-Roa, Francisco Garcia-Gonzalez, Daniel W.A. Noble, Pau Carazo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


A central question in ecology and evolution is to understand why sexual selection varies so much in strength across taxa; it has long been known that ecological factors are crucial to this. Temperature is a particularly salient abiotic ecological factor that modulates a wide range of physiological, morphological and behavioural traits, impacting individuals and populations at a global taxonomic scale. Furthermore, temperature exhibits substantial temporal variation (e.g. daily, seasonally and inter-seasonally), and hence for most species in the wild sexual selection will regularly unfold in a dynamic thermal environment. Unfortunately, studies have so far almost completely neglected the role of temperature as a modulator of sexual selection. Here, we outline the main pathways through which temperature can affect the intensity and form (i.e. mechanisms) of sexual selection, via: (i) direct effects on secondary sexual traits and preferences (i.e. trait variance, opportunity for selection and trait–fitness covariance), and (ii) indirect effects on key mating parameters, sex-specific reproductive costs/benefits, trade-offs, demography and correlated abiotic factors. Building upon this framework, we show that, by focusing exclusively on the first-order effects that environmental temperature has on traits linked with individual fitness and population viability, current global warming studies may be ignoring eco-evolutionary feedbacks mediated by sexual selection. Finally, we tested the general prediction that temperature modulates sexual selection by conducting a meta-analysis of available studies experimentally manipulating temperature and reporting effects on the variance of male/female reproductive success and/or traits under sexual selection. Our results show a clear association between temperature and sexual selection measures in both sexes. In short, we suggest that studying the feedback between temperature and sexual selection processes may be vital to developing a better understanding of variation in the strength of sexual selection in nature, and its consequences for population viability in response to environmental change (e.g. global warming).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1607-1629
Number of pages23
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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