Mate Choice is an extremely thorough gathering of studies and analysis of how organisms choose mates. Many fields of science, including evolution, behavior, statistics, and economics, are used to explain how organisms go about choosing a mate. In the first chapter, the author distinguishes mate choice from sexual selection. He argues that mate choice is not as closely tied to sexual selection as is often implied, but that “mate-choice decisions can be adaptive, non-adaptive, or maladaptive” (p. 13). The first third of the book covers the history, definition, measurements, and studies on mate choice. The middle section covers variations in mate choice as well as how choice is affected by ecological interactions. The rest of the book describes how mate choice affects and is affected by evolution, including sexual selection. The final chapters specifically address mate choice among humans, and the author finishes with a suggested theory about how mates are chosen.
At first glance, this book is overwhelming. It is rich with example after example from multiple types of organisms. Sensory mechanisms such as chemoreceptors, vision, hearing, and touch are the beginnings of the process of mate choice. The author notes that these mechanisms are often the subject of arguments that they are adaptations, since many of them require differing amounts of energy in order to attract a mate. The book doesn't consider mate choice to be over once the mate has been selected: “Mating, therefore, is just the end of the beginning in mate choice” (p. 176). Once a mate is chosen and copulation has occurred, there are still choices to be made.
From females rejecting sperm to resource allocation, there are still quite a few mechanisms that allow for choice in which offspring survive. The author refers to this as cryptic mate choice, noting that “it may be useful to think about a chooser's preferences before, during, and after mating as part of an integrated phenotype” (p. 200). Additionally, the book has a chapter on mutual mate choice and extensive chapters on the influence of genetic variation, the environment, and social interactions on choosing a mate.
Later chapters connect mate choice with evolution: “When sex is about producing zygotes, there will be coevolution between the sexes; part of the coevolutionary dynamic will involve mate-choice mechanisms” (p. 482). One of the more interesting parts of this section is one of the last chapters, focused on humans. Humans are “astonishingly diverse in their preferences” (p. 475), which makes studying them in a quantitative or qualitative manner rather difficult. The author makes some suggestions about how to study humans but admits that this will continue to be a challenge.
One of the things I really appreciate about Mate Choice is that the author ends each chapter with a section titled “Synthesis.” After the very detailed, and often statistics-heavy, discussions about the different topics, the synthesis sections sum up the main points. This makes what seems like a very difficult and technical read more user friendly. High school teachers and professors will find this book a useful reference when teaching behavior, evolution, and sexual selection. The examples span prokaryotic as well as eukaryotic organisms. Additionally, the examples of how studies were conducted and analyzed can be utilized as case studies for scientific method and statistical analysis.