How EDCs affect the development and manifestation of sexual traits, reproductive competence, and sexual behavior

Mate choice, sexual selection, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals

2018 Study Highlights

  • EDCs perturb all levels of reproduction.
  • Sexual selection acts on individuals but consequences are on populations.
  • EDCs potentially disrupt the ability to select a mate.
  • Mate selection requires complementarity in assessment and perception of potential mates.


Humans have disproportionately affected the habitat and survival of species through environmental contamination. Important among these anthropogenic influences is the proliferation of organic chemicals, some of which perturb hormone systems, the latter referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

EDCs are widespread in the environment and affect all levels of reproduction, including development of reproductive organs, hormone release and regulation through the life cycle, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and the maturation and maintenance of adult physiology and behavior.

However, what is not well-known is how the confluence of EDC actions on the manifestation of morphological and behavioral sexual traits influences mate choice, a process that requires the reciprocal evaluation of and/or acceptance of a sexual partner. Moreover, the outcomes of EDC-induced perturbations are likely to influence sexual selection; yet this has rarely been directly tested.

Here, we provide background on the development and manifestation of sexual traits, reproductive competence, and the neurobiology of sexual behavior, and evidence for their perturbation by EDCs. Selection acts on individuals, with the consequences manifest in populations, and we discuss the implications for EDC contamination of these processes, and the future of species.

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