Introduction to Intrasexual Selection
Intrasexual selection (in contrast to intersexual selection) is when members of the same sex (within a species) compete with each other in order to gain opportunities to mate with others, e.g. the male against male competition for females. Because intrasexual selection often involves fighting, species or individuals well adapt for intrasexual selection will have developed better armourments (weapons) than their competition.
On the other hand, there is intersexual selection. Often known as female choice, it is the process where the female choses the male based on certain ornaments e.g. a peacock’s tail. The ornament is not usually beneficial to the male (e.g. bright colours make it an attractive target for predators) but the female prefers the larger ornaments as it signals the male’s is able to cope with the hindrance – and therefore a better genetic make-up which will be passed on to her offspring. The reason the females choose is to prevent wasting invested time and energy on offspring which are of poor genetic merit.
There are two main types of competition over females, scramble and contest competition.
- Scramble: Typically whoever gets to the female first. An example with dung flies; brightly coloured male dung flies are attracted to a dung pat. Shortly after females will arrive at the dung pat. These females are quickly grabbed by the males. Very shortly after female arrival rate decreases and the number of both males and females around the pat decreases
In a similar scenario, male damselflies also grab females as soon as they arrive. However male body size also contributes to reproductive success. Larger males live for longer and hence have more possible days or reproductive ability but smaller males have a higher daily mating rate as they are more agile and able to grab the females faster. It is therefore beneficial for reproduction to be of intermediate size.
- Contest: Contest competition is a more typical form of competition where the male with the best fighting technique, largest body size or the largest weapons will win the female. Although not always guaranteed to win, they have a much higher chance than inferior males. This has however; inevitably lead to the production of larger male offspring by reproductive selection – as the larger males are more likely to reproduce and pass on their genes.
- Alternative Mating Techniques: Smaller males would therefore seem to be at a disadvantage during contest competitions. Fortunately there are species where the smaller males have developed alternative mating tactics to ensure reproductive success. For example:
- Red deer – Smaller males with small antlers are much less likely to win in a contest competition. Instead they wait near a female deer and when the large male intending to copulate with her engages in a contest with a competitor, the smaller deer sneaks in and copulates with the female.
- Sunfish – Males defend their territory and wait for females to come and lay their eggs. When a female arrives at the nest she will lay her eggs as the male fertilises them. However subordinate males may quickly dart in-between the male and female. The subordinate male mimics the female as not to alarm the dominant male and both males deposit sperm, this gives the subordinate male a chance to fertilise the eggs of the female.
- Coho Salmon – There are two forms of male Coho salmon, the larger males known as Hooknoses and the smaller males known as Jacks. Females and Hooknoses spend 3 years at sea before returning to reproduce; Jacks spend only 2 years, meaning a larger proportion return – a lower mortality rate. As is typical with other species, the larger males compete for females by fighting, whilst the smaller males sneak to mate with the females. When comparing Jacks to Hooknoses, both have the same level of reproductive fitness (resulting in a mixed evolutionarily stable strategy).
Once a male has mated with a female, it is still possible for the sperm of another male to fertilise the female. Some species have therefore developed methods to prevent this. The basic methods are pre/post copulation guarding. Prior to copulation the male will guard the female until she is sexually receptive and after copulation the male will guard the female until she has laid her eggs.
There is also the basic sperm competition, where the sperm ‘compete’ against the sperm of other males within the female reproductive tract. Two examples of more dedicated sperm competition are:
- Scrapers – Males who compete by this method use bodily structures to remove the sperm of other males from the female reproductive tract
- Mating Plugs – Males which use the mating plug method, copulate with a female and when they disengage a ‘plug’ is left within the female. This plug prevents further males from mating with the female.
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