Songs versus colours versus horns: what explains the diversity of sexually selected traits?

John J. Wiens, E. Tuschhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Papers on sexual selection often highlight the incredible diversity of sexually selected traits across animals. Yet, few studies have tried to explain why this diversity evolved. Animals use many different types of traits to attract mates and outcompete rivals, including colours, songs, and horns, but it remains unclear why, for example, some taxa have songs, others have colours, and others horns. Here, we first conduct a systematic survey of the basic diversity and distribution of different types of sexually selected signals and weapons across the animal Tree of Life. Based on this survey, we describe seven major patterns in trait diversity and distributions. We then discuss 10 unanswered questions raised by these patterns, and how they might be addressed. One major pattern is that most types of sexually selected signals and weapons are apparently absent from most animal phyla (88%), in contrast to the conventional wisdom that a diversity of sexually selected traits is present across animals. Furthermore, most trait diversity is clustered in Arthropoda and Chordata, but only within certain clades. Within these clades, many different types of traits have evolved, and many types appear to have evolved repeatedly. By contrast, other major arthropod and chordate clades appear to lack all or most trait types, and similar patterns are repeated at smaller phylogenetic scales (e.g. within insects). Although most research on sexual selection focuses on female choice, we find similar numbers of traits (among sampled species) are involved in male contests (44%) and female choice (55%). Overall, these patterns are largely unexplained and unexplored, as are many other fundamental questions about the evolution of these traits. We suggest that understanding the diversity of sexually selected traits may require a shift towards macroevolutionary studies at relatively deep timescales (e.g. tens to hundreds of millions of years ago).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)847-864
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Volume95
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

Keywords

  • contest competition
  • macroevolution
  • mate choice
  • ornaments
  • phylogeny
  • sexual selection
  • weapons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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