Constraints on the coevolution of contemporary human males and females

Stephen C. Stearns, Diddahally R. Govindaraju, Douglas Ewbank, Sean G. Byars

Abstract

Because autosomal genes in sexually reproducing organisms spend on average half their time in each sex, and because the traits that they influence encounter different selection pressures in males and females, the evolutionary responses of one sex are constrained by processes occurring in the other sex. Although intralocus sexual conflict can restrict sexes from reaching their phenotypic optima, no direct evidence currently supports its operation in humans. Here, we show that the pattern of multivariate selection acting on human height, weight, blood pressure and glucose, total cholesterol, and age at first birth differs significantly between males and females, and that the angles between male and female linear (77.8 ± 20.5°) and nonlinear (99.1 ± 25.9°) selection gradients were closer to orthogonal than zero, confirming the presence of sexually antagonistic selection. We also found evidence for intralocus sexual conflict demonstrated by significant changes in the predicted male and female responses to selection of individual traits when cross-sex genetic covariances were included and a significant reduction in the angle between male- and female-predicted responses when cross-sex covariances were included (16.9 ± 15.7°), compared with when they were excluded (87.9 ± 31.6°). We conclude that intralocus sexual conflict constrains the joint evolutionary responses of the two sexes in a contemporary human population.

  • Received August 29, 2012.
  • Accepted September 12, 2012.
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