Choice and Consequences
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Scientists recently discovered that females learn from other females to go after males with rare and distinctive traits that include looks, size or good genes, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Sexual selection often drives the evolution of traits in species, such as bigger antlers or colorful plumage. In the animal kingdom, males exhibit various traits to attract females, both physical and behavioral – think of “sword” length in swordfish or song and dance moves in some birds.
Current theories of sexual selection suggest that animals choose mates based on genetic quality, but these hypotheses don’t explain why there is so much variation in male traits or why female preferences change, according to the Conversation.
For their study, a research team sought to explore female agency, as well as its influence on sexual selection and evolution, by creating a mathematical model to explore how female preferences affect sexual selection.
The model showed that when females consistently chose males based on the same traits as their experienced counterparts, those traits became dominant with no diversity. However, when females preferred distinctive males, this led to rare traits becoming more common and subsequently less appealing.
The team suggested that female preferences change over time, rather than sticking with a single trait over all others.
Whether this model accurately reflects real-life scenarios requires confirmation through field studies. Still, the findings provide a novel explanation for how variation can be preserved within populations in the context of sexual selection.