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1 May 2012
Men evolving faster than women
by George Atkinson

New research from an international group of researchers shows that humans are continuing to evolve, but the rate of change is faster for men, thanks to sexual selection. The study reveals that human evolution is relentless, in spite of modern medicine and the prevalence of monogamy, which many believe should have slowed the Darwinian process.

Data for the study came from about 6,000 Finnish people born between 1760-1849. Genealogy is popular in Finland and the country has some of the best available data for such research thanks to detailed church records of births, deaths, marriages and wealth status.

The rich dataset enabled the scientists to examine the entire life cycle of individuals: specifically, survival to adulthood, mate access, mating success, and fertility per mate.

"Because natural and sexual selection acts differently on different classes of individuals and across the life cycle, we needed to study selection with respect to these characteristics in order to understand how our species evolves," explained project leader Dr Virpi Lummaa.

Interestingly, the scientists found that men and women are not equal concerning Darwinian selection. "Characteristics increasing the mating success of men are likely to evolve faster than those increasing the mating success of women. This is because mating with more partners was shown to increase reproductive success more in men than in women," said co-researcher Alexandre Courtiol.

The study reveals that significant selection has been taking place in very recent populations and that humans continue to be affected by both natural and sexual selection. "We have shown advances have not challenged the fact that our species is still evolving, just like all the other species 'in the wild.' It is a common misunderstanding that evolution took place a long time ago, and that to understand ourselves we must look back to the hunter-gatherer days of humans," concluded Lummaa.

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Source: The University of Sheffield




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