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Journal Club: Aesthetic evolution by mate choice: Darwin's really dangerous idea

  • Monash FIT, Room 126 25 Exhibition Walk, Clayton Clayton (map)

We'll do journal club based on a review paper suggested by Alan Dorin, who will lead the discussion.

Aesthetic evolution by mate choice: Darwin's really dangerous idea
Richard O. Prum. Published 9 July 2012.DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0285.
Link to paper.

Darwin proposed an explicitly aesthetic theory of sexual selection in which he described mate preferences as a 'taste for the beautiful', an 'aesthetic capacity', etc. These statements were not merely colourful Victorian mannerisms, but explicit expressions of Darwin's hypothesis that mate preferences can evolve for arbitrarily attractive traits that do not provide any additional benefits to mate choice. In his critique of Darwin, A. R. Wallace proposed an entirely modern mechanism of mate preference evolution through the correlation of display traits with male vigour or viability, but he called this mechanism natural selection. Wallace's honest advertisement proposal was stridently anti-Darwinian and anti-aesthetic. Most modern sexual selection research relies on essentially the same Neo-Wallacean theory renamed as sexual selection. I define the process of aesthetic evolution as the evolution of a communication signal through sensory/cognitive evaluation, which is most elaborated through coevolution of the signal and its evaluation. Sensory evaluation includes the possibility that display traits do not encode information that is being assessed, but are merely preferred. A genuinely Darwinian, aesthetic theory of sexual selection requires the incorporation of the Lande-Kirkpatrick null model into sexual selection research, but also encompasses the possibility of sensory bias, good genes and direct benefits mechanisms.