Abstracts (first author)
Sexually selected traits in the fossil record
Sexual selection is one of the most important driving forces behind the diversity that we see in modern biological systems, and it is increasingly being recognised that sexual selection probably plays an important role in large-scale processes such as speciation, extinction and adaptation. It has, however, been largely ignored by many palaeontologists despite the large number of high-profile examples of apparent sexually selected features in the fossil record. There are a number of reasons why this is so, including the difficulty of assigning sex to most fossils, the problem that the more extreme sexual dimorphs are likely to be described as different species, the existence of sexual dimorphs that have arisen because of natural rather than sexual selection and the sheer variety of sexually selected traits, which makes it very hard to identify specific morphological features that can be used to distinguish sexually selected traits from others. These problems are not insurmountable and with careful thought and well-planned hypothesis testing sexually selected traits can be distinguished from others in the fossil record, opening up opportunities for firstly a better understanding of the biology and behaviour of extinct animals and secondly for the use of the fossil record in comparative studies to test ideas about the role of sexual selection in driving processes like adaptation and speciation.