Timing as a sexually selected trait: The right mate at the right moment

Michaela Hau, Davide Dominoni, Stefania Casagrande, C. Loren Buck, Gabriela Wagner, David Hazlerigg, Timothy Greives, Roelof A. Hut

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Sexual selection favours the expression of traits in one sex that attract members of the opposite sex for mating. The nature of sexually selected traits such as vocalization, colour and ornamentation, their fitness benefits as well as their costs have received ample attention in field and laboratory studies. However, sexually selected traits may not always be expressed: coloration and ornaments often follow a seasonal pattern and behaviours may be displayed only at specific times of the day. Despite the widely recognized differences in the daily and seasonal timing of traits and their consequences for reproductive success, the actions of sexual selection on the temporal organization of traits has received only scant attention. Drawing on selected examples from bird and mammal studies, here we summarize the current evidence for the daily and seasonal timing of traits. We highlight that molecular advances in chronobiology have opened exciting new opportunities for identifying the genetic targets that sexual selection may act on to shape the timing of trait expression. Furthermore, known genetic links between daily and seasonal timing mechanisms lead to the hypothesis that selection on one timescale may simultaneously also affect the other. We emphasize that studies on the timing of sexual displays of both males and females from wild populations will be invaluable for understanding the nature of sexual selection and its potential to act on differences within and between the sexes in timing. Molecular approaches will be important for pinpointing genetic components of biological rhythms that are targeted by sexual selection, and to clarify whether these represent core or peripheral components of endogenous clocks. Finally, we call for a renewed integration of the fields of evolution, behavioural ecology and chronobiology to tackle the exciting question of how sexual selection contributes to the evolution of biological clocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160249
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1734
StatePublished - Nov 19 2017


  • Circadian rhythm
  • Circannual rhythm
  • Display behaviour
  • Sexual selection
  • Timing of reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Timing as a sexually selected trait: The right mate at the right moment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this