Sexual conflict and intrasexual polymorphism promote assortative mating and halt population differentiation

Lars Lønsmann Iversen, Erik I. Svensson, Søren Thromsholdt Christensen, Johannes Bergsten, Kaj Sand-Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sexual conflict is thought to be an important evolutionary force in driving phenotypic diversification, population divergence, and speciation. However, empirical evidence is inconsistent with the generality that sexual conflict enhances population divergence. Here, we demonstrate an alternative evolutionary outcome in which sexual conflict plays a conservative role in maintaining male and female polymorphisms locally, rather than promoting population divergence. In diving beetles, female polymorphisms have evolved in response to male mating harassment and sexual conflict. We present the first empirical evidence that this female polymorphism is associated with (i) two distinct and sympatric male morphological mating clusters (morphs) and (ii) assortative mating between male and female morphs. Changes in mating traits in one sex led to a predictable change in the other sex which leads to predictable within-population evolutionary dynamics in male and female morph frequencies. Our results reveal that sexual conflict can lead to assortative mating between male offence and female defence traits, if a stable male and female mating polymorphisms are maintained. Stable male and female mating polymorphisms are an alternative outcome to an accelerating coevolutionary arms race driven by sexual conflict. Such stable polymorphisms challenge the common view of sexual conflict as an engine of rapid speciation via exaggerated coevolution between sexes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1899
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Mar 20

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • coevolution
  • population variation
  • sexual antagonism
  • spatial structure
  • sympatric speciation


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