Sexual selection accelerates signal evolution during speciation in birds

17 July 2013

Published 17 July 2013 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1065 Proc. R. Soc. B 7 September 2013 vol. 280 no. 1766 20131065

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Sexual selection is proposed to be an important driver of diversification in animal systems, yet previous tests of this hypothesis have produced mixed results and the mechanisms involved remain unclear. Here, we use a novel phylogenetic approach to assess the influence of sexual selection on patterns of evolutionary change during 84 recent speciation events across 23 passerine bird families. We show that elevated levels of sexual selection are associated with more rapid phenotypic divergence between related lineages, and that this effect is restricted to male plumage traits proposed to function in mate choice and species recognition. Conversely, we found no evidence that sexual selection promoted divergence in female plumage traits, or in male traits related to foraging and locomotion. These results provide strong evidence that female choice and male–male competition are dominant mechanisms driving divergence during speciation in birds, potentially linking sexual selection to the accelerated evolution of pre-mating reproductive isolation.