The mismeasurement of sexual selection


Hope Klug, Department of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
Tel.: +358 9 1915 7713; fax: +358 9 1915 7694; e-mail:


Sexual selection can explain major micro- and macro-evolutionary patterns. Much of current theory predicts that the strength of sexual selection (i) is driven by the relative abundance of males and females prepared to mate (i.e. the operational sex ratio, OSR) and (ii) can be generally estimated by calculating intra-sexual variation in mating success (e.g. the opportunity for sexual selection, Is). Here, we demonstrate the problematic nature of these predictions. The OSR and Is only accurately predict sexual selection under a limited set of circumstances, and more specifically, only when mate monopolization is extremely strong. If mate monopolization is not strong, using OSR or Is as proxies or measures of sexual selection is expected to produce spurious results that lead to the false conclusion that sexual selection is strong when it is actually weak. These findings call into question the validity of empirical conclusions based on these measures of sexual selection.