Two sexes, one genome: the evolutionary dynamics of intralocus sexual conflict



Tanya M. Pennell, Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, East Sussex, BN1 9QG, United Kingdom. Tel: +44-(0)1273-87-28-62; Fax: +44 (0)1273-87-75-86; E-mail:


As the evolutionary interests of males and females are frequently divergent, a trait value that is optimal for the fitness of one sex is often not optimal for the other. A shared genome also means that the same genes may underlie the same trait in both sexes. This can give rise to a form of sexual antagonism, known as intralocus sexual conflict (IASC). Here, a tug-of-war over allelic expression can occur, preventing the sexes from reaching optimal trait values, thereby causing sex-specific reductions in fitness. For some traits, it appears that IASC can be resolved via sex-specific regulation of genes that subsequently permits sexual dimorphism; however, it seems that whole-genome resolution may be impossible, due to the genetic architecture of certain traits, and possibly due to the changing dynamics of selection. In this review, we explore the evolutionary mechanisms of, and barriers to, IASC resolution. We also address the broader consequences of this evolutionary feud, the possible interactions between intra- and interlocus sexual conflict (IRSC: a form of sexual antagonism involving different loci in each sex), and draw attention to issues that arise from using proxies as measurements of conflict. In particular, it is clear that the sex-specific fitness consequences of sexual dimorphism require characterization before making assumptions concerning how this relates to IASC. Although empirical data have shown consistent evidence of the fitness effects of IASC, it is essential that we identify the alleles mediating these effects in order to show IASC in its true sense, which is a “conflict over shared genes.”