Synthesis of sexual selection: a systematic map of meta-analyses with bibliometric analysis

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Pietro Pollo, Malgorzata Lagisz, Yefeng Yang, Antica Culina, Shinichi Nakagawa


Sexual selection has been a popular subject within evolutionary biology because of its central role in explaining odd and counterintuitive traits observed in nature. Consequently, the literature associated with this field of study became vast. Meta-analytical studies attempting to draw inferences from this literature have now accumulated, varying in scope and quality, thus calling for a synthesis of these syntheses. Here, we conducted a systematic literature search to create a systematic map with a report appraisal of meta-analyses on topics associated with sexual selection, aiming to identify the conceptual and methodological gaps in this secondary literature. We also conducted bibliometric analyses to explore whether these gaps are associated with the gender and origin of the authors of these meta-analyses. We included 152 meta-analytical studies in our systematic map. We found that most meta-analyses focused on males and on certain animal groups (e.g. birds), indicating severe sex and taxonomic biases. The topics in these studies greatly varied, from proximate (e.g. relationship of ornaments with other traits) to ultimate questions (e.g. formal estimates of sexual selection strength), albeit the former were more common. We also observed several common methodological issues in these studies, such as lack of detailed information regarding searches, screening, and analyses, which ultimately impairs the reliability of many of these meta-analyses. In addition, most of the meta-analyses’ authors were men affiliated to institutions from developed countries, pointing to both gender and geographical authorship biases. Most importantly, we found that certain authorship aspects were associated with conceptual and methodological issues in meta-analytical studies. Many of our findings might simply reflect patterns in the current state of the primary literature and academia, suggesting that our study can serve as an indicator of the issues within the field of sexual selection at large. Based on our findings, we provide both conceptual and analytical recommendations to improve future studies in the field of sexual selection.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


gender bias., gender bias, taxonomic chauvinism, mating success, extra-pair fertilisations, polyandry, sperm competition, intrasexual competition, mate choice, weapons, sexual signals


Published: 2023-10-12 01:43

Last Updated: 2024-04-09 08:01

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Conflict of interest statement:
The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Data and Code Availability Statement:
The supplementary material (with all data and code) is available at