Eco-evolutionary dynamics of sexual selection and sexual conflict

Erik I. Svensson

Chlorolestes tessellatus damsel fly, also known as the forest malachite, male and female hanging in tree khologa state forest
Chlorolestes tessellatus damselfly, also known as the forest malachite, male and female hanging in tree khologa state forest

Eco-evolutionary dynamics refers to the situation when evolutionary change affects ecological phenomena, and viceversa. For instance, as organisms change genetically due to natural selection, such evolved changes can in turn affect population dynamics and extinction risk. Conversely, ecological phenomena such as population dynamics and competition can also affect evolutionary change. Here, I review the reciprocal feedbacks of such eco-evolutionary dynamics and discuss how they can be linked to sexual selection and sexual conflict (sexual selection is where competition for mates leads to secondary sexual characters that appear not to be adaptive, such as the elaborate plumage of some male birds). Specifically, I review examples of rapid evolution of secondary sexual characters on ecological time scales (less than 100 generations) in natural populations and how such evolution driven by sexual selection can affect population dynamics, extinction risk and community-level phenomena. I conclude that the empirical evidence in this rather new area is limited. There are excellent prospects for innovative empirical research in this area, using carefully chosen study systems, and I discuss some promising methods. One such approach can be to explore the ecological consequences of variation in sexual dimorphism, in terms of population dynamics, extinction risk and community effects. The picture shows an example of sexual dimorphism in wing colouration in an endemic species of damselfly (Chlorolestes tesselatus)of the family Synlestidae, which occurs in the Eastern Cape Region of South Africa. The male (right) has black-and-white wing patches, whereas the female has completely transparent wings, and presumably this sex difference reflects sexual selection on males. However, we know little about how fast such sexual dimorphism evolves or its ecological consequences in natural populations.

Read the paper here.

This paper is part of the cross-journal Special Feature: Eco‐Evolutionary Dynamics Across Scales.

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