Wiley, R. H., and J. Poston.   1996.   Perspective: indirect mate choice, competition for mates, and coevolution of the sexes.   Evolution 50:   1371-1381.


When Darwin first proposed the possibility of sexual selection, he identified two mechanisms, male competition for mates and female choice of mates. Extending this classification, we distinguish two forms of mate choice, direct and indirect.

This distinction clarifies the relationship between Darwin's two mechanisms and, furthermore, indicates that the potential scope for sexual selection is much wider than so far realized.

Direct mate choice, the focus of most research on sexual selection in recent decades, requires discrimination between attributes of individuals of the opposite sex.

Indirect mate choice includes all other behavior or morphology that restricts an individual's set of potential mates.

Possibilities for indirect mate choice include advertisement of fertility or copulation, evasive behavior, aggregation or synchronization with other individuals of the same sex, and preferences for mating in particular locations. In each of these cases, indirect mate choice sets the conditions for competition among individuals of the opposite sex and increases the chances of mating with a successful competitor.

Like direct mate choice, indirect mate choice produces assortative mating. As a consequence, the genetic correlation between alleles affecting indirect choice and those affecting success in competition for mates can produce self-accelerating evolution of these complementary features of the sexes.

The broad possibilities for indirect mate choice indicate that sexual selection has more pervasive influences on the coevolution of male and female characteristics than previously realized.


This expanded perspective on sexual selection developed from a classification of behavioral mechanisms of mate choice. By emphasizing a distinction between direct and indirect mate choice, we reached two conclusions.

First, Darwin's two mechanisms of sexual selection, mate choice and competition for mates, are inseparable. It seems likely that competition for mates by one sex always depends on conditions set by indirect mate choice by the other sex.

Even when male-male competition takes exaggerated forms, females are not "passive", as Darwin originally suggested. Instead, indirect mate choice by females sets conditions for male competition. Studies of sexual selection and mating systems so far have largely overlooked this aspect of mate choice.

Second, indirect mate choice evolves in the same way as direct choice. In special cases, indirect mate choice might lead to runaway evolution of both male and female traits, just as direct mate choice might.

Furthermore, in situations in which females have limited opportunities to interact with males before mating, indirect mate choice might allow more reliable and less costly identification of competitive mates than would direct choice.

Future research on sexual selection and mating systems should strive to redress the imbalance so far in our attention to direct and indirect forms of mate choice.