Virtual sex of poultry. How Individual Based Modeling helps evolution research.

Marta Czarnocka-Cieciura (Warsaw University, College of Inter-Faculty Individual Studies in Mathematics and Natural Sciences)


Female choice has been thought to be a mechanism that could counter natural selection, pursing males to develop elaborated yet unpractical traits. Most theories about mechanisms of sexual selection presume that impressive traits are attractive because they are markers of some “good genes”. In contrast, Fisher's runaway process assume that preference and preferred traits can co-evolve, because female that choose popular male could have more attractive sons, and so – more grandchildren.

The problem to verify this hypothesis is that evolution is an extremely slow, complicated process, depending of many subtle, random changes. This makes it difficult both to examine it experimentally or retrospectively, and to develop good mathematical models of evolution.

One possibility is to develop individual based simulation model of evolving species. It means to program the population of virtual individuals, which can reproduce, inherit genes and eventually die. One can easy observe evolution in thousands or millions generations of such individuals and many repetitions of such simulation in relatively short time.

I have developed a model of evolution under sexual selection in wild population of game birds. The most interesting observations is that runaway process indeed work, even if genes of choosiness and preferred traits were inherited completely independent. And if more attractive males suffer higher mortality, there was no equilibrium between natural and sexual selection and whole population tend to become extinct. It is interesting weather sexual selection could cause extinction of real species or if there exists more elaborated mechanisms to prevent it.

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