Species which went extinct because of super-specific sex?
November 18, 2017 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm sure that I've read about species (animal or plant) which went extinct because they had some specific sexual habit or preference or requirement which turned out to not be very robust in the face of change. However, I'm having trouble thinking of any examples now. Is this a thing that actually happens? Can you think of examples?
posted by clawsoon to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Pandas are endangered (due to factors beyond just sexual practices) and not yet extinct, but are known to be reluctant breeders.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 3:58 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this is the kind of thing you're talking about, but this paper is about extinction threats due to mutualism disruptions - for instance if a plant is only pollinated by one animal and that animal goes extinct (even locally), the plant will likely go extinct as well. There are some examples in the Discussion section, and there's probably some good leads in the references if this is along the lines of what you're looking for.
posted by primalux at 4:19 PM on November 18, 2017

Parasite extinction is also something to look at - Parasite Lost: Did Our Taste for Seafood Just Cause an Extinction?
posted by primalux at 4:23 PM on November 18, 2017

You might enjoy reading what Douglas Adams had to say about the (near-extinct at the time) kakapo: "So just imagine if you will, this male Kakapo sitting up here, making all this booming noise which, if there’s a female out there—which there probably isn’t—and if she likes the sound of this booming—which she probably doesn’t—then she can’t find the person who’s making it! (Laughter.) But supposing she does, supposing she’s out there—but she probably isn’t—she likes the sound of this booming—she probably doesn’t—supposing that she can find him—which she probably can’t—she will then only consent to mate if the Podocarpus tree is in fruit!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:26 PM on November 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, also the endangered kakapo will only breed in years when there is enough of specific kinds of ripe fruit. This isn't what caused them to become endangered but it was important in figuring out how to re-establish their populations.
posted by primalux at 4:27 PM on November 18, 2017

Birds who have to dance it up big time in order for the females to ovulate, or be ready. I want you to know there is an extinct bird in the foothills of Salt Lake City. The male gets a two inch tall topknot of feathers, in a column shape, and he has to dance, and be all that enough to fertilize several females at once. I saw the dance once, and ran into one in winter, all white, same column of feathers. In the same general area. I looked the bird up, went extinct in the 1800s.
posted by Oyéah at 4:33 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think I remember reading that passenger pigeons went extinct partly because they only felt comfortable enough to breed when they were surrounded by masses of their own kind-- so once there weren't enough of them, they were doomed.
posted by The otter lady at 4:42 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

left handed snails are doomed to a lonely mating life because their genitals turn the wrong way :(
posted by TheAdamist at 5:07 PM on November 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Settled narrative about the 'Irish elk' used to be that sexual selection driven enormous size of its antlers became insupportable for the male of the species and caused its extinction, but Stephen Jay Gould attacked this idea and I don't know how things stand these days.
posted by jamjam at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2017

Club-winged manakins?
posted by Drosera at 5:28 PM on November 18, 2017

Many plants rely on insects or other animals for pollination. I don't know of total extinction, but populations in a particular area can crash if the pollinators disappear.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:37 PM on November 18, 2017

These answers are running into the same problems I encountered when trying to think of examples. In most cases, they aren't actually globally extinct (panda, kakapo, club-winged manakins, left-handed snails, the examples in the discussion section of the mutualism disruption paper), or there's a plausible mechanism without an actual example of total extinction to go with it (plants relying on insects, birds with precise dances), or the reason for the extinction is contested (Irish elk, passenger pigeon).

And Oyéah, I'm not sure if you're describing an extinct species or not! :-)

So far the passenger pigeon seems to be closest to what I'm looking for, but all of the other examples have also taken me down fascinating rabbit trails. Thanks!
posted by clawsoon at 6:57 PM on November 18, 2017

I found this article which argues for a risk of extinction due to a reproductive strategy, though not actually a mating phenomenon. So closer, but not exact. Search down the page for "Apeka on Brink of Extinction".

On the Shakers: they are/were a celibate religious community. To blame their loss of numbers to celibacy, you have to explain how orders of celibate, single sex religious communities have survived for centuries.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2017

I seem to remember an example in Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, a book about evolutionary biology: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00846X144/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
posted by lockestockbarrel at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2017

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