Two very basic ideas in sexual selection are heavily influenced by numbers of potential mates: the evolution of anisogamy, leading to sex role differentiation, and the frequency dependence of reproductive success that tends to equalize primary sex ratios. However, being explicit about the numbers of potential mates is not typical to most evolutionary theory of sexual selection. Here, we argue that this may prevent us from finding the appropriate ecological equilibria that determine the evolutionary endpoints of selection. We review both theoretical and empirical advances on how population density may influence aspects of mating systems such as intrasexual competition, female choice or resistance, and parental care. Density can have strong effects on selective pressures, whether or not there is phenotypic plasticity in individual strategies with respect to density. Mating skew may either increase or decrease with density, which may be aided or counteracted by changes in female behaviour. Switchpoints between alternative mating strategies can be density dependent, and mate encounter rates may influence mate choice (including mutual mate choice), multiple mating, female resistance to male mating attempts, mate searching, mate guarding, parental care, and the probability of divorce. Considering density-dependent selection may be essential for understanding how populations can persist at all despite sexual conflict, but simple models seem to fail to predict the diversity of observed responses in nature. This highlights the importance of considering the interaction between mating systems and population dynamics, and we strongly encourage further work in this area.
One contribution of 13 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Sexual conflict: a new paradigm?’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society