Why do we choose our mates? Ask Charles Darwin, prof says

Jun 16, 2009

Charles Darwin wrote about it 150 years ago: animals don't pick their mates by pure chance - it's a process that is deliberate and involves numerous factors. After decades of examining his work, experts agree that he pretty much scored a scientific bullseye, but a very big question is, "What have we learned since then?" asks a Texas A&M University biologist who has studied Darwin's theories.

Adam Jones, an evolutional biologist who has studied Darwin's work for years, says that Darwin's beliefs about the choice of mates and being beyond mere chance have been proven correct, as stated in Darwin's landmark book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. His work has withstood decades of analysis and scrutiny, as Jones states in his paper, "Mate Choice and Sexual Selection: What Have We Learned Since Darwin?" in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bottom line: It's no accident that certain peahens submit to gloriously-colored male peacocks, that lions get the females of their choice or that humans spend hours primping to catch the perfect spouses - it's a condition that is ingrained into all creatures and a conscious "choice" is made between the two so the romantic fireworks can begin.

Jones says Darwin set the standard for original thinking about animal reproduction and was first scientist to propose plausible mechanisms of evolution, and from there he took it one step further - he confirmed that animals' mating choices can drive evolutionary change.

"He noticed that birds, especially, seemed to be a bit picky about who they mated with," Jones explains. "He discovered that birds - especially females - had preferences and that they did not just choose a mate randomly. He believed this is due to beauty of the plumage, that females usually selected the most colorful males.

"That was an important first step, and it's given us models to work from to try to answer other big questions."

Those include determining methods to find out the actual criteria used in choosing a mate, what methods work and which do not, and the passing of genes on to the next generation, a field of study Jones says gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Another big recent advance was the development of molecular markers, which allow us to perform paternity testing," Jones adds.

"These markers can be applied to animal populations, and they give us a definitive record of who is mating with whom and what offspring resulted from the mating events. And also, what is the driving force behind sexual selection? We have an unprecedented ability to document mating patterns but we still don't completely understand why some populations experience strong sexual selection and others don't."

Jones notes that other key questions Darwin's work uncovered but has not yet answered include the role of population characteristics and the environment and how they work together to produce strong sexual selection, and also what determines whether or not female choice will evolve in a particular species.

And perhaps the biggest question of all: How does all of this pertain to humans?

"Darwin concluded that sexual selection existed in the animal world and that humans definitely followed a similar process," Jones confirms.

"But he realized he had to explain it first as it related to . Darwin thought that sexual selection was an important process in humans, both for males and females. But how much has sexual selection acted on males versus females in humans? Today, while we are celebrating the 200th year of the birth of , we know sexual selection occurs and is very important but there are still many unanswered questions about precisely why and how it works, especially in humans."

Source: Texas A&M University

Explore further: For bats and dolphins, hearing gene prestin adapted for echolocation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Male seahorses are nature's Mr. Mom, researchers say

May 01, 2008

Male seahorses are nature’s real-life Mr. Moms – they take fathering to a whole new level: Pregnancy. Although it is common for male fish to play the dominant parenting role, male pregnancy is a complex process unique ...

The best both of worlds -- how to have sex and survive

Sep 20, 2007

Researchers have discovered that even the gruesome and brutal lifestyle of the Evarcha culicivora, a blood gorging jumping spider indigenous to East Africa, can’t help but be tempted by that ‘big is beautiful’ mantra ...

More flight than fancy?

Apr 05, 2007

Scientists from the universities of Exeter and Cambridge have turned a textbook example of sexual selection on its head and shown that females may be more astute at choosing a mate than previously thought.

In spiders, size matters: Small males are more often meals

Sep 10, 2008

Female spiders are voracious predators and consume a wide range of prey, which sometimes includes their mates. A number of hypotheses have been proposed for why females eat males before or after mating. Researchers ...

Recommended for you

Reptile Database surpasses 10,000 reptile species

10 hours ago

More than 10,000 reptile species have been recorded into the Reptile Database, a web-based catalogue of all living reptile species and classification, making the reptile species among the most diverse vertebrate ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

finitesolutions
5 / 5 (2) Jun 16, 2009
SELECT * from world_population_table WHERE bank_account>2000000000000000000000;
gmurphy
not rated yet Jun 16, 2009
ha!, mysql logic != mating_patterns
Aloken
not rated yet Jun 16, 2009
sorry its in sql not !=
:P
Aloken
not rated yet Jun 16, 2009
i mean its < > not != , physorg doesnt like me posting both of them together it seems
LuckyBrandon
not rated yet Jun 17, 2009
for each record in recordset

wscript.echo "Go figure, Darwin's a freakin observational genius"

next



wscript.sleep ("315360000000000000~")



wscript.echo "Peace out! Remember A.N.U.S. - americans for a new united states"



wscript.quit




yep, thats 10 million years folks....at least as far as calc.exe could calculate it :)