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Why do some animals mate with one partner rather than many? A review of causes and consequences of monogamy.

Review article
Authors Charlotta Kvarnemo
Published in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society
Volume 93
Pages 1795-1812
ISSN 1469-185X
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 1795-1812
Language en
Keywords ecological constraints, genetic compatibility, habitat limitation, mate availability, mate choice, mating systems, pair-bond, parental care, spatial constraints, temporal constraints.
Subject categories Zoology, Ecology, Behavioral Sciences Biology, Evolutionary Biology


Why do some animals mate with one partner rather than many? Here, I investigate factors related to (i) spatial constraints (habitat limitation, mate availability), (ii) time constraints (breeding synchrony, length of breeding season), (iii) need for parental care, and (iv) genetic compatibility, to see what support can be found in different taxa regarding the importance of these factors in explaining the occurrence of monogamy, whether shown by one sex (monogyny or monandry) or by both sexes (mutual monogamy). Focusing on reproductive rather than social monogamy whenever possible, I review the empirical literature for birds, mammals and fishes, with occasional examples from other taxa. Each of these factors can explain mating patterns in some taxa, but not in all. In general, there is mixed support for how well the factors listed above predict monogamy. The factor that shows greatest support across taxa is habitat limitation. By contrast, while a need for parental care might explain monogamy in freshwater fishes and birds, there is clear evidence that this is not the case in marine fishes and mammals. Hence, reproductive monogamy does not appear to have a single overriding explanation, but is more taxon specific. Genetic compatibility is a promising avenue for future work likely to improve our understanding of monogamy and other mating patterns. I also discuss eight important consequences of reproductive monogamy: (i) parentage, (ii) parental care, (iii) eusociality and altruism, (iv) infanticide, (v) effective population size, (vi) mate choice before mating, (vii) sexual selection, and (viii) sexual conflict. Of these, eusociality and infanticide have been subject to debate, briefly summarised herein. A common expectation is that monogamy leads to little sexual conflict and no or little sexual selection. However, as reviewed here, sexual selection can be substantial under mutual monogamy, and both sexes can be subject to such selection. Under long-term mutual monogamy, mate quality is obviously more important than mate numbers, which in turn affects the need for pre-mating mate choice. Overall, I conclude that, despite much research on genetic mating patterns, reproductive monogamy is still surprisingly poorly understood and further experimental and comparative work is needed. This review identifies several areas in need of more data and also proposes new hypotheses to test.

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