Primate Mating System Part 3: Polyandry

Polyandry refers to a single breeding females mating with multiple partners (Thornhill and Alcock, 1983; Ridley, 1990; Birkhead and Moller, 1992; Hunter et al. 1993).

  • Generally, within polyandrous groups there are one or more resident males and up to two resident females, however only one of the females is breeding. Thus she is the single breeding female and she will mate with the two males (Huck et al. 2005; Suarez, 2007).
  • Thus within this mating system the adult female has a higher breeding skew (Garber, 1997).
  • Generally the males will also cooperate to take care of the females young (Faabord et al. 1995; Kohda et al. 2009).
  • Evolution
    • Genetic benefits hypothesis
      • Females mating with additional males when their previous mate is genetically inferior for whatever reason (Thornhill and Alcock, 1983; Simmons, 1987b).
        • Good gene’s result in the female’s offspring
      • Females mating with additional males in order to increase genetic diversity (Robinson, 1992; Simmons, 2001).
        • “Reduces reproductive failures” or “bet hedging” (Watson, 1991; Simmons, 2001).
      • Female mate choice via facilitation of sperm competition
        • Females have indirect fitness benefits for their offspring by getting the best possible sperm (Harvey and May, 1989; Eberhard, 1996).
          • They could also have sons that are better within sperm competition thus increasing their chances of having their sons pass on genes and indirectly increase the female’s fitness benefits (Curtinger, 1991; Keller and Reeve, 1995).
            • However this would only apply if sperm ability is heritabl
  •  Primates that exhibit polyandry
    •  Tamarins
      • Saguinus
        • cotton-headed-tamarin-crouched-on-branch.jpg
        • Example: Saguinus fuscicollis
        • Varies some groups have a singular female other have multi male and female mating (Terborgh and Goldizen, 1985, Garber et al., 1993, Goldizen et al., 1996, Huck et al., 2005a and Suarez, 2007).
      • Leontopithecus
        •  Golden-lion-tamarin.jpg
        • Sometimes they only have on breeding female other times they will have breeding females (Dietz and Baker, 1993).
    •   Humans
      • Tibetan
      • Crook and Crook (1988).
    • Some Marmosets
      •  common-marmoset-on-trunk-of-cecropia-tree-dorsal-view.jpg
      • Example: Callithrix jacchus (Arruda et al. 2005).
      • Singular breeding female (Arruda et al. 2005).
      • When the extra female in the group attempts to mate infanticide and group expulsions are known to occur (Bezerra et al. 2007)

Work Cited

Arruda, M. F., Araujo, A., Sousa, M. B. C., Albuquerque, F. S., Albuquerque, A. C. S. R. & Yamamoto, M. E. 2005. Two breeding females within free-living groups may not always indicate polygyny: alternative subordinate female strategies in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Folia Primatologica, 76, 10e20.

Birkhead, T.R. & Mùller, A.P. 1992. Sperm Competition in Birds: Evolutionary Causes and Consequences. Academic Press, London.

Crook, J. H. & Crook, S. J. 1988. Tibetan polyandry: problems of adaptation and fitness. In: Human Reproductive Behavior (Ed. by L. Betzig, M. B. Mulder & P. Turke), pp. 97e114. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dietz, J. M. & Baker, A. J. 1993. Polygyny and female reproductive success in golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia). Animal Behaviour, 46, 1067e1078.

Eberhard, W.G. 1996. Female Control: Sexual Selection by Cryptic Female Choice. Princeton University Press, Princeton.


Garber, P. A. 1984. Proposed nutritional importance of plant exudates in the diet of the Panamanian tamarin, Saguinus oedipus geoffroyi. International Journal of Primatology, 5, 1e15.

Garber, P. A. 1994. Phylogenetic approach to the study of tamarin and marmoset social systems. American Journal of Primatology, 34, 199e219.

Garber, P. A., Encarnacion, F., Moya, L. & Pruetz, J. D. 1993. Demographic and reproductive patterns in moustached tamarin monkeys (Saguinus mystax): implications for reconstructing platyrrhine mating systems. American Journal of Primatology, 29, 235e254.

Garber, P. A., Encarnacion, F., Moya, L., Pruetz, J. D. & Ique, C. 1996. Social and seasonal influences on reproductive biology in male moustached tamarins (Saguinus mystax). American Journal of Primatology, 38, 29e46.

Harvey, P.H. & May, R.M. 1989. Out for the sperm count. Nature 337: 508±509.

Huck et al., 2005b. M. Huck, P. Löttker, E.W. Heymann. Characterization and social correlates of fecal testosterone and cortisol excretion in wild male Saguinus mystax. International Journal of Primatology, 26 (2005), pp. 159–179

Hunter, F.M., Petri, M., Otronen, M., Birkhead, T. & Mùller, A.P. 1993. Why do females copulate repeatedly with one male? TREE 8: 21±26.

Keller, L. & Reeve, H.K. 1995. Why do females mate with multiple males? The sexually selected sperm hypothesis. Adv. Stud. Behav. 24: 291±315.

Ridley, M. 1990. The control and frequency of mating in insects. Funct. Ecol. 4: 75±84.

Robinson, G.E. 1992. Regulation of devision of labor in insect societies. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 37: 637±665.

Simmons, L.W. 1987b. Sperm competition as a mechanism of female choice in the field cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 21: 197±202.

Simmons, L. (2001). The evolution of polyandry: An examination of the genetic incompatibility and good‐sperm hypotheses. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 14(4), 585-594.

Suarez, S. S. 2007. Paternity, relatedness and socio-reproductive behavior in a population of wild red-bellied tamarins (Saguinus labiatus). Ph.D. thesis, New York University.

Thornhill, R. & Alcock, J. 1983. The Evolution of Insect Mating Systems. Harvard University Press, MA, USA.

Watson, P.J. 1991. Multiple paternity as genetic bet-hedging in female sierra dome spiders, Linyphila litigiosa (Linyphiidae). Anim. Behav. 41: 343±360.



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