Sexually antagonistic selection occurs when traits are beneficial for one sex, but detrimental to the other. This commonly occurs in species with sexual dimorphism, such that one trait is positively correlated with fitness in one sex, and negatively correlated with fitness in another. But in many organisms, the sexes do not become dimorphic until maturity – that is to say, juveniles all look pretty much alike, even when adults show clear differences between males and females. Which leads to the question: how does sexually antagonistic selection change over an organisms’ lifespan? Research from studies of Drosophila flies suggests that this is the case, but the question hasn’t been well-studied in vertebrates.
Until now. In his Evolution talk, Aaron Reedy (University of Virginia) described his work testing whether sexually antagonistic selection changes over ontogeny using our favorite workhorse of evolutionary ecology, the brown anole (A. sagrei). Anolis sagrei are sexually dimorphic, with adult male body sizes up to 30% larger than females, but juveniles are monomorphic. Reedy and colleagues sampled A. sagrei on several small islands in a Florida watershed four times a year, capturing thousands of adults and juveniles. They measured the body size of all lizards captured, and combined this morphological data with survivorship data to determine how selection was acting on body size in adults and juveniles.
They predicted that juvenile males and females would experience concordant selection, while adult males and females would experience antagonistic selection. And this is exactly what they found: for juveniles, body size was correlated with survival in the same way between sexes. But in adults, this was not the case. In the first year of sampling, there was no selection on body size for adult females, but positive selection for males, such that bigger males survived better. Interestingly, during the second year of sampling, the relationship flipped – females experienced positive selection on body size, and males experienced negative selection. The reasons for this shift are uncertain, but the main point is clear – sexually antagonistic selection does indeed change over ontogeny. Reedy et al. are planning to follow up this great new research by expanding their study to look at more islands and more traits to get at the finer points of these selective differences, so stay tuned!