The impact of learning on sexual selection and speciation

Trends Ecol Evol. 2012 Sep;27(9):511-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.05.007. Epub 2012 Jun 15.


Learning is widespread in nature, occurring in most animal taxa and in several different ecological contexts and, thus, might play a key role in evolutionary processes. Here, we review the accumulating empirical evidence for the involvement of learning in mate choice and the consequences for sexual selection and reproductive isolation. We distinguish two broad categories: learned mate preferences and learned traits under mate selection (such as bird song). We point out that the context of learning, namely how and when learning takes place, often makes a crucial difference to the predicted evolutionary outcome. Factors causing biases in learning and when one should expect the evolution of learning itself are also explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Mating Preference, Animal / physiology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Sex Characteristics