Monday September 12th 2016
Birds are among the most monogamous of creatures, Dr Carin Bondar explains in a new book, though that doesn’t stop some bird species sneaking extra sexual action on the side.
Monogamy has long been a topic of sexual behaviour that I find both fascinating and frustrating. Divorce and infidelity rates are high enough for me to seriously question the notion of having only one sexual partner for any kind of substantial timeframe, yet our huge brains and emotional nature make juggling many partners a near impossibility. So when we look to the animal kingdom, what do we see? Not surprisingly, we see a wide range of social and sexual relationships, some involving monogamy.
For many decades it was believed that social and sexual monogamy were one and the same. Reports of wholesome “family” living and sustained relationships with single partners were described for many species of birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles. However, a major shift in our understanding of monogamy took place with the advent of genetic sequencing.
Once it was possible for us to examine whose babies belonged to whom, it became blatantly obvious that social monogamy and sexual monogamy were two separate things entirely.
Many animals associate with the same partner over a breeding season or over consecutive seasons. Partners engage in social and sexual activities with each other, but the majority are also involved in sexual activities outside of the pair bond. When it comes to sexual reproduction, maximising one’s biological fitness is the ultimate goal, and reproducing with only one partner is usually not the most efficient way to achieve that.
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