Sexual dimorphism, or differences in size or appearance between the sexes, was used by Darwin to explain sexual selection in On the Origin of Species. Interestingly, sexually dimorphic traits, like antlers in deer or showy feathers in peacocks, often do not present themselves until the animals are reproductively mature. Juveniles are often sexually monomorphic, or relatively similar in appearance. Few studies have investigated how sexual antagonism, when different sexes have different optimal strategies, of these traits may develop in the wild over the course of the animal’s maturation. So Aaron Reedy from the Bob Cox Lab at the University of Virginia decided to tackle this question with brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) in Florida.
After tracking thousands of lizards for several generations, Aaron found that selection changed throughout an animal’s life. Adult lizards had selection pressure for large males and small females in one year, but reversed the next, which was surprising, but in both cases was still sexual antagonism. For juveniles, on the other hand, larger body sizes were better regardless of sex. This is an example of sexually concordant selection, where both sexes have similar optimal strategies. He also found that there was selection pressure on the dewlap (an important ornament of anoles in courtship displays) to be smaller in one year, but then reversing the next so that males with larger dewlaps had better chances of survival. This year-to-year variation in selection is interesting and hopefully we’ll learn more from this system in the future.