The evolution of harm--effect of sexual conflicts and population size

Evolution. 2011 Mar;65(3):725-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01181.x. Epub 2010 Nov 10.


Conflicts of interest between mates can promote the evolution of male traits that reduce female fitness and that drive coevolution between the sexes. The rate of adaptation depends on the intensity of selection and its efficiency, which depends on drift and genetic variability. This leads to the largely untested prediction that coevolutionary adaptations such as those driven by sexual conflict should evolve faster in large populations. We tested this using the bruchid beetle Callosobruchus maculatus, a species where harm inflicted by males is well documented. Although most experimental evolution studies remove sexual conflict, we reintroduced it in populations in which it had been experimentally removed. Both population size and standing genetic variability were manipulated in a factorial experimental design. After 90 generations of relaxed conflict (monogamy), the reintroduction of sexual conflicts for 30 generations favored males that harmed females and females that were more resistant to the genital damage inflicted by males. Males evolved to become more harmful when population size was large rather than when initial genetic variation was enriched. Our study shows that sexual selection can create conditions in which males can benefit from harming females and that selection may tend to be more intense and effective in larger populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Coleoptera / genetics*
  • Coleoptera / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Genitalia / cytology
  • Genitalia / physiology
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal