Do sexually selected weapons drive diversification?

Zachary Emberts, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Sexual selection is often thought to promote speciation. This expectation is largely driven by the fact that sexually selected traits can influence mating patterns and contribute to reproductive isolation. Indeed, some comparative studies have shown that clades with sexually selected traits have increased rates of speciation and diversification. However, these studies have almost exclusively focused on one mechanism of sexual selection: female choice. Another widespread mechanism is male-male competition. Few empirical studies (if any) have investigated the role of this alternative mechanism in driving diversification. Nevertheless, recent reviews have suggested that male-male competition can increase speciation rates. Here, we investigated whether traits associated with precopulatory male–male competition (i.e., sexually selected weapons) have promoted speciation and diversification in insects. We focused on three clades with both weapons and suitable phylogenies: leaf-footed and broad-headed bugs (Coreidae+Alydidae; ∼2850 species), stick insects and relatives (Phasmatodea; ∼3284 species), and scarab beetles (Scarabaeoidea; ∼39,717 species). We found no evidence that weapon-bearing lineages in these clades have higher rates of speciation or diversification than their weaponless relatives. Thus, our results suggest that precopulatory male-male competition may not have strong, general effects on speciation and diversification in insects, a group encompassing ∼60% of all described species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2411-2424
Number of pages14
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Diversification
  • female choice
  • insects
  • male-male competition
  • sexual selection
  • speciation
  • weapons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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