In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexual Selection

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Defining Sexual Selection
  • History

Evolutionary Biology Sexual Selection
Charlotta Kvarnemo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199941728-0029


In 1871 Darwin introduced the “sexual selection” concept in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, because many conspicuous traits, such as loud calls, gaudy colors, and attention-catching movements, could not be well explained by natural selection. Realizing that many of these traits are associated with competition for mates or mating opportunities, Darwin identified two general processes, intra- and inter-sexual selection. Intra-sexual selection by male-male competition was largely accepted by the scientific community, but the idea that inter-sexual selection by mate choice (and female choice in particular), as a driver of many of the most extravagant traits found in nature, was not widely accepted until almost a hundred years later. Acknowledgements: Thanks to Ingrid Ahnesjö, Ulrika Candolin and Bob Wong for comments.

General Overviews

Published to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Darwin’s 1871 sexual selection theory, the conceptual overview of sexual selection in Trivers 1972 is arguably one of the most important, as it revitalized the field fundamentally. Another milestone is Bradbury and Andersson 1987, which covers many of the key theoretical questions central to sexual selection. Seven years later, the monograph Andersson 1994 provided a comprehensive overview of pre-copulatory sexual selection, shortly followed by two important books on post-copulatory sexual selection: Eberhard 1996 and Birkhead and Møller 1998.

  • Andersson, Malte. 1994. Sexual selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    One of the most comprehensive overviews of sexual selection before mating, covering theory and illustrated with empirical studies.

  • Birkhead, Tim R., and Anders Pape Møller. 1998. Sperm competition and sexual selection. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    Edited book with a good taxonomic overview of sperm competition and sexual selection after mating.

  • Bradbury, Jack W., and Malte Andersson. 1987. Sexual selection: Testing the alternatives. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

    Brings together some of the best researchers in sexual selection at that time and serves as an important common ground for this field.

  • Darwin, Charles. 1871. The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London: Murray.

    Provides the first introduction of the sexual selection concept and a good review of a wide range of taxa. Highly enjoyable to read and still enlightening.

  • Eberhard, William G. 1996. Female control: Sexual selection by cryptic female choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    A visionary monograph on cryptic mate choice and sexual selection after mating

  • Trivers, Robert L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871–1971. Edited by B. G. Campbell, 136–179. Chicago: Aldine.

    A fundamentally important overview of sexual selection in relation to parental investment.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.