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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 16;106 Suppl 1:10001-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0901129106. Epub 2009 Jun 15.

Mate choice and sexual selection: what have we learned since Darwin?

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Department of Biology, Texas A&M University, 3258 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA.


Charles Darwin laid the foundation for all modern work on sexual selection in his seminal book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. In this work, Darwin fleshed out the mechanism of sexual selection, a hypothesis that he had proposed in The Origin of Species. He went well beyond a simple description of the phenomenon by providing extensive evidence and considering the far-reaching implications of the idea. Here we consider the contributions of Darwin to sexual selection with a particular eye on how far we have progressed in the last 150 years. We focus on 2 key questions in sexual selection. First, why does mate choice evolve at all? And second, what factors determine the strength of mate choice (or intensity of sexual selection) in each sex? Darwin provided partial answers to these questions, and the progress that has been made on both of these topics since his time should be seen as one of the great triumphs of modern evolutionary biology. However, a review of the literature shows that key aspects of sexual selection are still plagued by confusion and disagreement. Many of these areas are complex and will require new theory and empirical data for complete resolution. Overall, Darwin's contributions are still surprisingly relevant to the modern study of sexual selection, so students of evolutionary biology would be well advised to revisit his works. Although we have made significant progress in some areas of sexual selection research, we still have much to accomplish.

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