What does mate choice have to do with extinction? Can you see any differences between these millimeter-long male and female ostracodes (tiny ocean animals)? Microscope photos of fossil ostracodes. (Bottom, left) In this species of tiny animal called an ostracod, males are smaller than females and have special light organs that they use to compete for females by emitting flashes of bioluminesence. (Gene Hunt, Smithsonian/Jim G. Morin)
What does mate choice have to do with extinction?
Lexile

In the animal kingdom, sexual reproduction is the rule. This is even true for tiny ocean animals. One example is ostracodes. There are just a few exceptions to the rule. Male sex cells must fertilize female sex cells. That is how they make offspring. Some animals, such as male and female clams, release sex cells into the water for chance encounters. But reproduction in many animals requires that males and females find each other. 
 
Attracting individuals of the same species is achieved in a startling variety of ways. They can make creative use of the senses. This activity takes many forms. It can range from singing by frogs to dancing by jumping spiders. There is even luminescing by deep-sea animals. Once found, a potential mate may need to be convinced to go forward with the mating relationship. Generally, it's the male doing the convincing. This is because females usually make the larger investment in creating and raising offspring. So females are choosier about who to mate with.
 
Let's take birds as an example. In birds, males invite females to their territories by singing. They sport bright feathers and do courtship dances. The more flamboyant males tend to be more successful at attracting females. This activity by males drives a sort of evolutionary arms race. Which one can have the showiest feather plumage? Showier plumage may lead to more mating opportunities. This leads to more offspring. That perpetuates showier plumage in the population of birds.
 
This form of natural selection driven by mate choice has a name. It is called "sexual selection." It has inspired spectacular characteristics in animals, from feathers to antlers to lion manes. It also might have a dark side. Peacocks with larger tails may be easier for wild dogs to catch, for example. Elks with larger antlers might not be as agile against wolf attacks. And a lit-up squid might attract a hungry fish instead of a mate. Species with more extreme differences between males and females might be more susceptible to extinction in the long run.
 
Dr. Gene Hunt is a Smithsonian paleontologist. He uses tiny ocean ostracodes as a model to examine a hypothesis. It is that sexual selection plays a role in extinction. You can learn more about what his studies of ostracodes are revealing. Watch a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. It airs on Thursday, Feb. 9.  In "What Tiny Marine Fossils Reveal about Extinction" (at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST on the Q?rius website), Gene will show you how he tests hypotheses. He also will answer your questions. You can also get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How might species with more extreme differences between males and females be more susceptible to extinction?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (23)
  • arelyd-san
    2/22/2017 - 01:43 p.m.

    Species can be more extreme because some can come out very bad

  • diegos1-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:23 p.m.

    Thay Are cottages to.thay are nasty.thay do expirement on them.there are female and males.thay are alive.

  • chelseyb-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:25 p.m.

    Frogs attract female frogs by singing. An octopus can attract a hungry fish instead of a mate. Animals have different ways to attract a mate but can also attract enemies.

  • isaach3-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:28 p.m.

    They keep getting experimented on and that will eventuality kill them and probably will be the first thing to be extinction in 2017 to 2018

  • lizbethgu-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:34 p.m.

    At tracking individuals of the same species is achieved in a startling variety of ways.they can make creative use of the senses this activity from different ways and he uses things and they use it like a tool

  • miguele-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:39 p.m.

    Male survive longer than female because the male are stronger than female. Female are a lot weaker than males. So that's why males can survive longer than female.

  • austins2-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:43 p.m.

    I think that they make a good job for us to save us. I think that we will live for a good time. I think that the article should be made to make a better.

  • rosal-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:49 p.m.

    He also will answer your questions. You can also get teaching resources to use with the webcast. Will show you how he tests hypotheses.

  • johns3-san
    2/23/2017 - 12:49 p.m.

    They may be more suspceptible to extinction because they might run out of “mating partners”. So they won't be able to create babies. So they won't be able to reproduce, so they will slowly die out. That is why different species might go instinct.

  • anahir-san
    2/23/2017 - 01:01 p.m.

    Dr. Hunt is a Smithsonian paleontologist. There is a form called sexual selection. Birds makes invite females to their territories by singing. Some animals such as male and female clams release sex cells into the water for chance encounters.in animal kingdom sexual reproduction is a rule.

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