if it moves fuck it

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In a mossy forest in the western Andes of Ecuador, a small, cocoa-brown bird with a red crown sings from a slim perch. […] Three rival birds call back in rapid response. […] They are singing with their wings, and their potential mates seem to find the sound very alluring. […]

This is an evolutionary innovation — a whole new way to sing. But the evolutionary mechanism behind this novelty is not adaptation by natural selection, in which only those who survive pass on their genes, allowing the species to become better adapted to its environment over time. Rather, it is sexual selection by mate choice, in which individuals pass on their genes only if they’re chosen as mates. From the peacock’s tail to the haunting melodies of the wood thrush, mate choice is responsible for much of the beauty in the natural world.

Most biologists believe that these mechanisms always work in concert — that sex appeal is the sign of an objectively better mate, one with better genes or in better condition. But the wing songs of the club-winged manakin provide new insights that contradict this conventional wisdom. Instead of ensuring that organisms are on an inexorable path to self-improvement, mate choice can drive a species into what I call maladaptive decadence — a decline in survival and fecundity of the entire species. It may even lead to extinction.

{ NYT | Continue reading }

art { Cy Twombly, Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus, 1962 }