Natural Selection vs. Sexual Selection

What's the Difference?

Natural selection and sexual selection are two mechanisms that drive evolution in different ways. Natural selection refers to the process by which certain traits or characteristics become more or less common in a population over time due to their impact on survival and reproduction. It favors traits that increase an organism's chances of survival and reproduction, leading to the adaptation of species to their environment. On the other hand, sexual selection specifically focuses on traits that enhance an organism's ability to attract mates and reproduce successfully. It can lead to the development of elaborate physical features, behaviors, or even complex courtship rituals. While natural selection is driven by survival advantages, sexual selection is driven by reproductive advantages, and both processes play a crucial role in shaping the diversity of life on Earth.


AttributeNatural SelectionSexual Selection
DefinitionProcess by which individuals with favorable traits for their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce.Process by which individuals with certain traits are more likely to mate and pass on those traits to the next generation.
TypesStabilizing selection, directional selection, disruptive selectionIntrasexual selection, intersexual selection
Role of CompetitionCompetition for limited resources and survivalCompetition for mates
Selection PressureEnvironmental factors, predation, diseasePreference of mates, competition with same-sex individuals
OutcomeAdaptation to the environmentDevelopment of elaborate traits, sexual dimorphism
ExamplesCamouflage, beak shape in birds, antibiotic resistancePeacock's tail, bird songs, bright plumage in male birds

Further Detail


Natural selection and sexual selection are two fundamental mechanisms that drive evolution in living organisms. While both processes involve the selection of certain traits, they operate in different ways and have distinct attributes. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of natural selection and sexual selection, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Natural Selection

Natural selection is the process by which certain heritable traits become more or less common in a population over time, based on their impact on survival and reproduction. It is driven by the environment and the pressures it exerts on individuals within a population. Traits that enhance an organism's survival and reproductive success are more likely to be passed on to future generations, while those that hinder these abilities are less likely to be inherited.

One key attribute of natural selection is its role in adaptation. Through the accumulation of beneficial traits, populations can become better suited to their environment over generations. For example, in a population of birds, individuals with longer beaks may be better able to access food sources, leading to increased survival and reproduction. Over time, the average beak length in the population may increase as a result of natural selection.

Another important aspect of natural selection is its ability to drive speciation. When populations become geographically isolated or face different selective pressures, they may diverge and eventually form new species. This occurs as certain traits become more advantageous in one environment compared to another, leading to reproductive isolation and the emergence of distinct species.

Furthermore, natural selection operates on a wide range of traits, including physical characteristics, behaviors, and physiological adaptations. It acts on both visible traits, such as coloration or body shape, as well as hidden traits, like immune system efficiency or resistance to diseases. This broad scope allows natural selection to shape various aspects of an organism's biology.

Lastly, natural selection is a gradual and continuous process that occurs over long periods of time. It relies on the accumulation of small changes in traits, known as microevolution, which eventually lead to significant transformations in populations, known as macroevolution. This gradual nature of natural selection is a key factor in the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.

Sexual Selection

Sexual selection, on the other hand, is a specific form of natural selection that operates on traits related to mating success. It occurs when individuals within a population compete for mates or when individuals are chosen as mates based on certain desirable traits. Unlike natural selection, which is primarily driven by survival, sexual selection is driven by reproductive success.

One of the main attributes of sexual selection is the existence of two distinct mechanisms: intrasexual selection and intersexual selection. Intrasexual selection involves competition between individuals of the same sex for access to mates. This can manifest in various ways, such as direct physical combat or displays of strength or dominance. In contrast, intersexual selection occurs when individuals of one sex choose mates based on specific traits or behaviors. This often leads to the evolution of elaborate courtship displays or secondary sexual characteristics.

Another important aspect of sexual selection is its potential role in the evolution of exaggerated traits that may not necessarily enhance survival but are favored by mate choice. These traits, known as sexual ornaments or signals, can include vibrant plumage, intricate songs, or elaborate courtship rituals. They serve as indicators of genetic quality or fitness, and individuals with these traits are more likely to be chosen as mates, leading to their increased prevalence in subsequent generations.

Furthermore, sexual selection can lead to the evolution of sexual dimorphism, where males and females of a species exhibit distinct physical characteristics. This dimorphism often arises due to the differential selection pressures on each sex. For example, in many bird species, males may have bright and colorful plumage to attract females, while females have more subdued colors to provide camouflage during nesting.

Lastly, sexual selection can sometimes result in trade-offs with natural selection. Traits that are advantageous in terms of mating success may come at a cost to survival or other aspects of fitness. For instance, the elaborate antlers of male deer may help them win mating competitions but can also make them more vulnerable to predators. These trade-offs highlight the complex interactions between natural and sexual selection in shaping the overall fitness of individuals.


In conclusion, natural selection and sexual selection are two distinct but interconnected mechanisms that drive evolution. While natural selection acts on traits that enhance survival and reproductive success, sexual selection specifically targets traits related to mating success. Both processes play crucial roles in shaping the diversity and complexity of life on Earth, with natural selection driving adaptation and speciation, and sexual selection influencing the evolution of mating behaviors, sexual dimorphism, and exaggerated traits. Understanding the attributes of these selection mechanisms provides valuable insights into the evolutionary processes that have shaped the world we see today.

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