All Shops
We're still open for business, read our Covid-19 statement here

British Wildlife

6 issues per year 84 pages per issue Subscription only

British Wildlife is the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiast and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Published six times a year, British Wildlife bridges the gap between popular writing and scientific literature through a combination of long-form articles, regular columns and reports, book reviews and letters.

Subscriptions from £30 per year

Conservation Land Management

4 issues per year 44 pages per issue Subscription only

Conservation Land Management (CLM) is a quarterly magazine that is widely regarded as essential reading for all who are involved in land management for nature conservation, across the British Isles. CLM includes long-form articles, events listings, publication reviews, new product information and updates, reports of conferences and letters.

Subscriptions from £18 per year
Academic & Professional Books  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution

Mate Choice The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans

By: Gil G Rosenthal(Author)
632 pages, 24 b/w photos, 99 b/w illustrations, 4 tables
Mate Choice is a new benchmark work in research on animal reproduction that will be a reference for years to come.
Mate Choice
Click to have a closer look
Average customer review
  • Mate Choice ISBN: 9780691150673 Hardback Aug 2017 In stock
Price: £45.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

The popular consensus on mate choice has long been that females select mates likely to pass good genes to offspring. In Mate Choice, Gil Rosenthal overturns much of this conventional wisdom. Providing the first synthesis of the topic in more than three decades, and drawing from a wide range of fields, including animal behavior, evolutionary biology, social psychology, neuroscience, and economics, Rosenthal argues that "good genes" play a relatively minor role in shaping mate choice decisions and demonstrates how mate choice is influenced by genetic factors, environmental effects, and social interactions.

Looking at diverse organisms, from protozoans to humans, Rosenthal explores how factors beyond the hunt for good genes combine to produce an endless array of preferences among species and individuals. He explains how mating decisions originate from structural constraints on perception and from nonsexual functions, and how single organisms benefit or lose from their choices. Both the origin of species and their fusion through hybridization are strongly influenced by direct selection on preferences in sexual and nonsexual contexts. Rosenthal broadens the traditional scope of mate choice research to encompass not just animal behavior and behavioral ecology but also neurobiology, the social sciences, and other areas.

Focusing on mate choice mechanisms, rather than the traits they target, Mate Choice offers a groundbreaking perspective on the proximate and ultimate forces determining the evolutionary fate of species and populations.


Preface xi

Chapter 1. Mate Choice and Mating Preferences:
      An Overview
      1.1 Introduction 3
      1.2. What is mate choice? 10
      1.3. Choosers and courters, not females and males 11
      1.4. Mate choice is distinct from sexual selection 12
      1.5. Preference and antipathy underlie realized mate choices 13
      1.6. Preference functions 15
      1.7. Stages of mate choice 23
      1.8. Mate choice as a problem in animal communication 26
      1.9. Prospectus 29
      1.10. Additional reading 30
Chapter 2. Measuring Preferences and Choices
      2.1. Introduction 31
      2.2. Measuring mate choice using mating outcomes 33
      2.3. Empirical assays of preference: where to begin 35
      2.4. Measures of preference 35
      2.5. Stimuli used in preference assays 41
      2.6. Repeatability of preferences 47
      2.7. Sequential versus simultaneous assays 48
      2.8. Other concerns with study design and interpretation 51
      2.9. Synthesis: measuring mate choice and mating preferences in the twenty-first century 53
      2.10. Additional reading 56
Chapter 3. The First Steps in Mate Choice: Preference Functions and Sensory Transduction
      3.1. Introduction 57
      3.2. Common features of sensory systems 63
      3.3. Chemoreception 75
      3.4. Vision 78
      3.5. Hearing 80
      3.6. Other modalities 83
      3.7. Sensory constraints on mating preferences 85
      3.8. Synthesis 89
      3.9. Additional reading 89
Chapter 4. Beyond the Periphery: Perception, Cognition, and Multivariate Preferences
      4.1. Introduction 91
      4.2. Mechanisms of perceptual integration 101
      4.3. Categorical perception 107
      4.4. Integration rules for complex preferences 110
      4.5. Synthesis: complex preferences as integrated phenotypes 116
      4.6. Additional reading 120
Chapter 5. Aesthetics and Evaluation in Mate Choice
      5.1. Introduction: "A taste for the beautiful" 121
      5.2. Universals of beauty? 123
      5.3. Detection and evaluation as distinct components of mate choice 126
      5.4. Mechanisms of evaluation 130
      5.5. Evaluative mechanisms and perception are related: "beauty in the processing experience" 137
      5.6. Plasticity and evolvability of evaluative mechanisms 137
      5.7. Additional reading 138
Chapter 6. From Preferences to Choices: Mate Sampling and Mating Decisions
      6.1. Introduction 139
      6.2. The biological context of mate choice 142
      6.3. Mate sampling algorithms in theory and practice 148
      6.4. Sequential and static: fixed-threshold rules 148
      6.5. Sequential and dynamic: adjustable thresholds 149
      6.6. Simultaneous and static: comparative evaluation and (in)transitivity 158
      6.7. Simultaneous and dynamic: best-of- n, comparative Bayes, and random walk 163
      6.8. Sampling multiple traits 165
      6.9. Recognition 166
      6.10. Executing choices 167
      6.11. The marginal cost of sampling and choice 169
      6.12. Synthesis 171
      6.13. Additional reading 173
Chapter 7. Mate Choice During and After Mating
      7.1. Introduction 174
      7.2. Remating and choice of multiple mates 177
      7.3. Biasing fertilization 179
      7.4. Resource allocation to offspring 191
      7.5. Mate choice across stages: premating decisions and cryptic choice 194
      7.6. Synthesis: what is different about cryptic choice? 196
      7.7. Additional reading 200
Chapter 8. Mutual Mate Choice
      8.1. Introduction 201
      8.2. Reciprocal preferences 202
      8.3. Social promiscuity and mutual mate choice 205
      8.4. Pairing decisions: finding a social mate 213
      8.5. Pair bonding 220
      8.6. Mate choice in hermaphrodites 225
      8.7. Synthesis 225
      8.8. Additional reading 227
Chapter 9. Variation in Preferences and Choices: General Considerations
      9.1. Overview 228
      9.2. Scales of variation 231
      9.3. Repeatability 232
      9.4. Covariates of preference variation 251
      9.5. Same-sex sexual behavior 260
      9.6. Synthesis 261
      9.7. Additional reading 262
Chapter 10. Variation I: Genetics
      10.1. Overview 263
      10.2. Interspecific genetic differences 265
      10.3. Genetic mapping 268
      10.4. Genetic variation in natural populations 270
      10.5. The genetic architecture of mating preferences 279
      10.6. Functional characterization of preference genes 284
      10.7. Synthesis 286
      10.8. Additional reading 287
Chapter 11. Variation II: Biotic and Abiotic Environment
      11.1. Introduction 288
      11.2. Context-sensitive effects 288
      11.3. State-dependent preferences 290
      11.4. Genotype-by-environment interactions 299
      11.5. Synthesis 304
      11.6. Additional reading 305
Chapter 12. Variation III: Social Environment and Epigenetics
      12.1. Introduction 306
      12.2. Social effects before birth: epigenetic and parental effects 307
      12.3. Social status before and after maturity 312
      12.4. Early learning: impacts on preferences 313
      12.5. Mechanisms of early learning 318
      12.6. Variation in early learning 324
      12.7. Social experience after sexual maturity 327
      12.8. Nonindependent mate choice and copying 328
      12.9. Genotype by environment revisited: the instinct to learn 332
      12.10. Synthesis 335
      12.11. Additional reading 338

Chapter 13. Origins and Histories of Mating Preferences: Chooser Biases
      13.1. Introduction 341
      13.2. Preferences have histories 346
      13.3. Perceptual biases 348
      13.4. Biases from non-choice functions 350
      13.5. Novel responses of preference mechanisms 352
      13.6. Byproduct biases: novel biases shaped by current signals 353
      13.7. Synthesis 354
      13.8. Additional reading 357
Chapter 14. Selection on Mate Choice and Mating Preferences
      14.1. Introduction 358
      14.2. Selection on preferences for courter traits 359
      14.3. Evolution of choosiness and mate-sampling strategies 372
      14.4. When to choose: pre-versus postmating 378
      14.5. Evolution of plastic preferences 381
      14.6. Constraints on preference evolution 383
      14.7. Coercion and choice 384
      14.8. Synthesis 385
      14.9. Additional reading 387
Chapter 15. Dynamic Evolution of Preferences, Strategies, and Traits
      15.1. Introduction 388
      15.2. Genetic covariance drives preference evolution: the Fisher-Lande-Kirkpatrick null model 389
      15.3. Constraints on genetic covariance: (mis)alignment of preferences and traits 396
      15.4. Adaptive coevolution 402
      15.5. Mode of transmission and preference-trait coevolution 410
      15.6. The limits of indirect selection 412
      15.7. Mate choice in context: social and life history evolution 419
      15.8. Compatibility and epistasis 424
      15.9. Mate choice as an agent of trait evolution 426
      15.10. Population-level consequences of mate choice 428
      15.11. Coevolution of multiple traits and preferences 431
      15.12. Synthesis: a unified view of preference evolution 434
      15.13. Additional reading 437
Chapter 16. Mate Choice, Speciation, and Hybridization
      16.1. Introduction 439
      16.2. Divergence of preferences among isolated populations 440
      16.3. Divergence of preferences with secondary contact 444
      16.4. Reinforcement and speciation with gene flow 450
      16.5. Conspecific mate preference and intraspecific mate choice 461
      16.6. Mate choice and genetic exchange 462
      16.7. Synthesis 471
      16.8. Additional reading 472
Chapter 17. Mate Choice and Human Exceptionalism
      17.1. Introduction 473
      17.2. Social influences on human mating decisions 476
      17.3. Variation in human mating preferences 478
      17.4. Synthesis: integrating evolutionary and social-science approaches to human sexuality 480
      17.5. Additional reading 481
Chapter 18. Conclusions: A Mate-Choice View of the World
      18.1. The sweep of mate choice 482
      18.2. From sexual selection to preference evolution 483
      18.3. How we talk about mate choice 484
      18.4. How we study mate choice 485
      18.5. Four open questions about mate-choice mechanisms 486
      18.6. Mate choice and total selection 488
      18.7. Synthesis: mate choice and its consequences 492

Glossary 493
Literature Cited 505
Subject Index 617
Taxonomic Index 629

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A reference work for years to come
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 12 Nov 2019 Written for Hardback

    I have to preface this review by pointing out that I did not read this book from a fully neutral position. Gil Rosenthal, a professor in biology, ecology and evolutionary biology at Texas A&M University, does mate choice research on fish. So did I. Though he works on live-bearing swordtails and I worked on threespine sticklebacks, some of the work he discusses has been written by people I knew personally as supervisor, co-workers or colleagues. Many more publications referenced are ones I also read during the course of my PhD research. You could say that mate choice research is a field I am, errr, intimately familiar with. At least where fish are concerned. At the same time, I left academia after graduating in 2010, so this book seemed like a good opportunity to get back in touch with this research field.

    Anyway. Sex. From the beautiful song and dance of birds of paradise, the use of spermatophores (i.e. packages of sperm) as nuptial gifts in insects, the sexual cannibalism (i.e. let's-have-sex-and-then-I'll-kill-you) in other insects, pregnant seahorse males, the aggregations of displaying males on so-called leks in grouse or certain antelopes, or the broadcast spawning events of certain fish (i.e. free-for-all mating aggregations that turn the waters into a soup of sperm and eggs). The world of animal courtship and reproduction is endlessly varied and endlessly fascinating. It has given many a pop-science author an excuse to write amusing and slightly racy books, Howard's Sex on Earth or Schilthuizen's Nature's Nether Regions being just two recent examples. We serious biologists of course read Shuster & Wade's Mating Systems and Strategies for an overview.

    As Rosenthal observes, the downside of all this diversity is a certain "Balkanization". There are complete research programmes on mate choice in fish, similarly for birds, frogs and humans. But there isn't necessarily a lot of cross-talk between the various disciplines of e.g. ethology, neurobiology or evolutionary psychology. And the vastness of the associated literature is such that it's hard to be an expert in all these fields. Rosenthal's book is a brave attempt to offer a cross-disciplinary, cross-taxonomical overview of mate choice to bring these fields closer together. Even though it's not intended as an exhaustive literature review, Rosenthal has read thousands of publications, and the reference section of this chunky book runs to some 112 pages (having been printed on heavy paper stock, this is a doorstopper).

    The main point Rosenthal wants to make with Mate Choice is that the role of "good genes" is overrated. One school of thought in mate choice research that has received much attention is the idea that during courtship, one sex (often females) picks a partner (often males) based on traits that indicate good genetic quality. She may not directly benefit from this herself, but her offspring will indirectly gain an evolutionary advantage. Though this mechanism has its role, Rosenthal argues it is minor. Decades of research has failed to turn up much direct evidence. As an aside, Rosenthal talks about courters and choosers, rather than males and females. This is not just political correctness; other than sex-role-reversed species, there is increasing evidence for strong female choice on males in some species, and roles switching back and forth between males and females within one interaction.

    The first part of this book walks through the actual biological process of mate choice. First there is sensory biology. Before you can choose, you need to detect the courtship signal, whether through smell, sound or sight. Then there is cognition. In reality, most courters pay attention to several signals, and to several features of each signal (e.g. bowerbird females evaluate the male's bower, his song, his dance, and his plumage). This requires processing and integrating complex information. A courter ends up preferring not just one trait, but a combination of several traits, a so-called multivariate preference. Then there is evaluation, once observed and processed, a courter needs to decide, is she attracted, indifferent or repelled by this display? Then comes choice. It's not uncommon for several courters to be vying for a chooser's attention. Who do you choose? If not, how many partners do you sample before coming to a decision? And it doesn't stop there, even during and after mating, choice continues. Sperm can be stored or ejected by females, and strategic decisions can be made on how much time and resources to allocate to offspring (collectively this is known as cryptic choice, as it is harder to observe). And of course, courtship is rarely a one-way street, but a dynamic process that involves give and take by both parties, i.e. mutual mate choice. This part of the book is already fascinating, giving many examples of how different and complex mate choice can be in various creatures.

    The middle section of the book discusses variation in preferences and choices among species, between individuals and within individuals. Genetic, environmental (e.g. seasonal) and social (e.g. preferences learned from parents) factors play a large and decisive role in determining the outcome of mate choice.

    The final section deals with the origin, evolution and consequences of mate choice. Where do preferences come from? How does natural selection act on them, i.e. how do they evolve? And, the core focus of current research, how do chooser preferences and courter traits evolve together? Finally, Rosenthal considers the role of mate choice in the formation of new species or their disappearance through hybridization.

    The range of disciplines covered here reveals many striking findings and is an education in mate choice research. The information-density is high and it reminded me of reading papers when studying. Sometimes I had to read paragraphs several times to get them. I do not say this to criticize Rosenthal's writing style; I see it as an inescapable consequence of communicating complex, sometimes abstract ideas at a high level. As such, the audience for this book is clearly an academic one. But if you research mate choice, or are starting out, this book is a benchmark work you need to read. Books with such a wide scope aiming to synthesize a field don't come along very often. That alone makes this book an important contribution, and I, for one, am glad to have read it. I expect this will become a standard reference work, on par with Birkhead & Møller's Sperm Competition and Sexual Selection, Andersson's Sexual Selection, and Shuster & Wade's Mating Systems and Strategies. The last two were also published by Princeton University Press, so I'm pleased to see them continuing a tradition of publishing important works in this field.
    Was this helpful to you? Yes No


Gil G. Rosenthal is professor of biology and of ecology and evolutionary biology at Texas A&M University. He is codirector of the CICHAZ field station in central Mexico.

By: Gil G Rosenthal(Author)
632 pages, 24 b/w photos, 99 b/w illustrations, 4 tables
Mate Choice is a new benchmark work in research on animal reproduction that will be a reference for years to come.
Media reviews

"This book is a marvelously insightful, thought-provoking, and stimulating synthesis of mate choice. Drawing on information from the fields of animal behavior, ecology, evolutionary genetics, and sensory physiology, it will be a source of information and inspiration for everyone interested in this fascinatingly complex topic."
– Rosemary Grant, coauthor of 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major Island

"At once encyclopedic, idiosyncratic, and illuminating – a wonderful book to dip into."
– Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, coauthor of Conservation: Linking Ecology, Economics, and Culture

"This book takes an interesting and substantial look at mate choice and will become a new reference on the topic. With its exhaustive references, broad taxonomic coverage, and fresh direction, this important work is a major, significant contribution to the field."
– Richard O. Prum, Yale University

"Taking on the enormous field of mate choice, Gil Rosenthal reviews and curates research from neurobiology and endocrinology through psychology and evolutionary genetics to produce a towering work. An indispensable resource for students of animal behavior and evolution, this comprehensive and thoughtful book will anchor the study of mate choice for decades to come."
– Robert Brooks, University of New South Wales, Australia

Current promotions
Spring Promotions 2020WILDGuidesNest Box Price List 2020Order your free copy of our 2020 equipment catalogue