, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 95-105

Anisogamy, sexual selection, and the evolution and maintenance of sex

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In the present paper we distinguish between two aspects of sexual reproduction. Genetic recombination is a universal features of the sexual process. It is a primitive condition found in simple, single-celled organisms, as well as in higher plants and animals. Its function is primarily to repair genetic damage and eliminate deleterious mutations. Recombination also produces new variation, however, and this can provide the basis for adaptive evolutionary change in spatially and temporally variable environments.

The other feature usually associated with sexual reproduction, differentiated male and female roles, is a derived condition, largely restricted to complex, diploid, multicellular organisms. The evolution of anisogamous gametes (small, mobile male gametes containing only genetic material, and large, relatively immobile female gametes containing both genetic material and resources for the developing offspring) not only established the fundamental basis for maleness and femaleness, it also led to an asymmetry between the sexes in the allocation of resources to mating and offspring. Whereas females allocate their resources primarily to offspring, the existence of many male gametes for each female one results in sexual selection on males to allocate their resources to traits that enhance success in competition for fertilizations. A consequence of this reproductive competition, higher variance in male than female reproductive success, results in more intense selection on males.

The greater response of males to both stabilizing and directional selection constitutes an evolutionary advantage of males that partially compensates for the cost of producing them. The increased fitness contributed by sexual selection on males will complement the advantages of genetic recombination for DNA repair and elimination of deleterious mutations in any outcrossing breeding system in which males contribute only genetic material to their offspring. Higher plants and animals tend to maintain sexual reproduction in part because of the enhanced fitness of offspring resulting from sexual selection at the level of individual organisms, and in part because of the superiority of sexual populations in competition with asexual clones.