Evolution (2017)

DOI: 10.1111/evo.13395


Male genital diversification is likely the result of sexual selection. Female genital diversification may also result from sexual selection, although it is less well studied and understood. Female genitalia are complex among whales, dolphins, and porpoises, especially compared to other vertebrates. The evolutionary factors affecting the diversity of vaginal complexity could include ontogeny, allometry, phylogeny, sexual selection, and natural selection. We quantified shape variation in female genitalia using 2D geometric morphometric analysis, and validated the application of this method to study soft tissues. We explored patterns of variation in the shape of the cervix and vagina of 24 cetacean species (n = 61 specimens), and found that genital shape varies primarily in the relative vaginal length and overall aspect ratio of the reproductive tract. Extensive genital shape variation was partly explained by ontogenetic changes and evolutionary allometry among sexually mature cetaceans, whereas phylogenetic signal, relative testis size, and neonate size were not significantly associated with genital shape. Female genital shape is diverse and evolves rapidly even among closely related species, consistent with predictions of sexual selection models and with findings in invertebrate and vertebrate taxa. Future research exploring genital shape variation in 3D will offer new insights into evolutionary mechanisms because internal vaginal structures are variable and can form complex spirals.