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Parental investment and sexual selection

Author(s): Trivers RL


Charles Darwin's (1871) treatment of the topic of sexual selection was sometimes confused because he lacked a general framework within which to relate the variables he perceived to be important: sex-linked inheritance, sex ratio at conception, differential mortality, parental care, and the form of the breeding system (monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, or promiscuity). This confusion permitted others to attempt to show that Darwin's terminology was imprecise, that he misinterpreted the function of some structures, and that the influence of sexual selection was greatly overrated. Huxley (1938), for example, dismisses the importance of female choice without evidence or theoretical argument, and he doubts the prevalence of adaptations in males that decrease their chances of surviving but are selected because they lead to high reproductive success. Some important advances, however, have been achieved since Darwin's work. The genetics of sex has now been clarified, and Fisher (1958) has produced a model to explain sex ratios at conception, a model recently extended to include special mechanisms that operate under inbreeding (Hamilton 1967). Data from the laboratory and the field have confirmed that females are capable of very subtle choices (for example, Petit & Ehrman 1969), and Bateman (1948) has suggested a general basis for female choice and male -male competition, and he has produced precise data on one species to support his argument.

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