14th July 2006

 

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

 

Sexual conflict in the animal kingdom is the subject of a new research study being undertaken by a lecturer at the University of Lincoln.

 

Biological sciences lecturer Dr Paul Eady has been awarded a research grant by the Natural Environmental Research Council of £94, 000 for a three-year project focusing on the ‘battle of the sexes’ over reproduction.

 

Because female insects (as with many other animals) often mate with several males, the males have evolved a number of adaptations to ensure their sperm fertilize the female's ova.

 

Dr Eady explains: “In Callosobruchus maculatus (a small beetle) the male is equipped with spines that puncture the female reproductive tract. These wounds may serve two functions: firstly they may speed up the rate at which females mature and lay eggs and secondly they may prevent or delay females from mating with other males.

 

“Both scenarios result in greater male fertilisation success. However, this damage reduces female longevity - in effect copulation is both necessary and harmful”.

 

Dr Eady continued: “Females are thought to evolve counter-adaptations to reduce the level of male incurred damage. However, males then evolve ever more potent weaponry to counteract the female resistance and an evolutionary arms race ensues between males and females. Such arms races are known to result in rapid evolutionary change which, should it occur in reproductive traits, could lead to reproductive incompatibility and eventually a new species.

 

Dr Eady is working on the project in collaboration with Exeter University. He said: “I’ve spent the past 15 years studying the evolution of animal behaviour and physiology in the hope of providing fundamental insights into the nature of natural and sexual selection.

 

“These theories, originated by Charles Darwin, have transformed our society but there are still lots of unanswered questions. I hope this study will go some way to answering them.”

 

For more information contact:

Kate Strawson Press Officer

(01522) 886244 kstrawson@lincoln.ac.uk

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