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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2018.00225

The Role of Learning on Insect and Spider Sexual Behaviors, Sexual Trait Evolution and Speciation

  • 1National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • 2Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

We review experimental and theoretical evidence that learning in insects and spiders affects the expression of mate preferences and of sexual signals, the evolution of both traits, and ultimately patterns of assortative mating and speciation. Both males and females can modify their sexual preferences and signaling based on previous social interactions or the experience of visual, olfactory, gustatory, or auditory signals. Learning takes place during an early life exposure, previous personal sexual experiences or by observing the choices of others, and it can occur sometimes via very short (a few seconds) exposures to individuals or signals. We briefly review some of the molecular mechanisms that mediate learning in insects, as well as theoretical work that assesses how learning impacts the evolution of insect sexual traits and speciation. We suggest that future research should attempt to provide evidence of the adaptive nature of learning, which remains scarce in insects as well as in vertebrates, and explore further the mechanisms of learning in order to probe into their possible transgenerational inheritance. Future studies should also model how this process might further affect the evolution of sexual traits, and provide a unifying terminology for the underlying mechanisms of learning across diverse life-history contexts.

Keywords: Selectivity, preference, signal, social experience, Adaptive value, mate choice, Sexual selection

Received: 01 Aug 2018; Accepted: 05 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

Astrid T. Groot, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Matthew R. Symonds, Deakin University, Australia
Valentina Zizzari, Universität Koblenz Landau, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 Dion, Monteiro and Nieberding. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Dr. Emilie Dion, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, dion.emilie@ymail.com
Prof. Antónia Monteiro, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, antonia.monteiro@nus.edu.sg
Prof. Caroline M. Nieberding, Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348, Walloon Brabant, Belgium, caroline.nieberding@uclouvain.be