The evolution of female genitalia

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Female genitalia have been largely neglected in studies of genital evolution, perhaps due to the long-standing belief that they are relatively invariable and therefore taxonomically and evolutionarily uninformative in comparison with male genitalia. Contemporary studies of genital evolution have begun to dispute this view, and to demonstrate that female genitalia can be highly diverse and covary with the genitalia of males. Here, we examine evidence for three mechanisms of genital evolution in females: species isolating 'lock-and-key' evolution, cryptic female choice and sexual conflict. Lock-and-key genital evolution has been thought to be relatively unimportant; however, we present cases that show how species isolation may well play a role in the evolution of female genitalia. Much support for female genital evolution via sexual conflict comes from studies of both invertebrate and vertebrate species; however, the effects of sexual conflict can be difficult to distinguish from models of cryptic female choice that focus on putative benefits of choice for females. We offer potential solutions to alleviate this issue. Finally, we offer directions for future studies in order to expand and refine our knowledge surrounding female genital evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-889
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
Early online date26 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


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