Thursday, November 20, 2008

Intersexual Correlation

A colleague wrote to ask me what I thought about an idea he'd had. He was thinking about the fact that one could have two individuals with the same genotypes, except for those genes determining sex (which is some species don't exist, where sex is environmentally determined), and end up with significantly different phenotypes. In some traits (e.g. Hair color) these two individuals would be expected to have very similar traits, in others (e.g. genital morphology) they would be expected to be very different, and perhaps in some cases uncorrelated or negatively correlated. He wondered if this might affect the ability of individuals to choose mates who would produce highly successful offspring. For instance, a female sizing up a male would have a better sense of what that male's sons would look like than what his daughters would look like. A big very masculine male might tend to have oversized and somewhat unattractive daughters. My colleage wondered if this might confuse things enough to slow down the action of sexual selection, and allow a greater genetic diversity to remain in the population than would otherwise be the case. I found htis a very interesting question, and wrote the following reply:

There is a body of literature on the degree to which natural selection on the traits of one sex will affect the traits of the other sex. People often use the term "correlated evolution" to describe this sort of thing. When there is a correlation (positive or negative) in a trait between the female expressed genotype and the male expressed genotype, I've seen the phrase "intersexual correlation." I am not terribly familiar with this literature, I'm afraid.

This recent paper is the closest thing I know of to what you are talking about.

Whether any of this would lead to a greater genetic diversity in the population, I am not sure. The effects of natural selection may be somewhat weaker, as traits that are expressed in one sex but not the other are less often expressed, and therefore less often subject to selection (an epistatic interaction in effect). In the case of sexual selection, my guess would be that as long as degrees of intersexual correlation in particular traits evolve more slowly than do what cues individuals use to choose mates, choosers should evolve to focus on characteristics that are good indicators of fitness in both male and female offspring. I think this will generally be the case, as there is clearly very strong selection against those who use misleading cues in mate choice. I am not aware of any reason to think there would be rapid change in the degree of intersexual correlation in a wide range of traits all at once. As long as there is any consistently reliable signal available, the family lines that use it should tend to do better than the population average.

It raises an interesting set of questions, I am not sure how many of them there is any literature on.

Does this answer your question? If you want more expert answers we could ask Monty Slatkin, who I am sure has thought about this in some detail at some point.

1 comment:

jte said...

What does

two individuals with the same genotypes, except for those genes determining sex (which is some species don't exist, where sex is environmentally determined),