4.4.2E: Mating Systems and Sexual Selection - Biology

In mating, there are two types of selection (intersexual, intrasexual) and three mating systems (monogamous, polygynous, polyandrous).

Learning Objectives

  • Differentiate among monogamous, polygynous, and polyandrous mating systems, and distinguish between intersexual and intrasexual mate selection

Key Points

  • Two types of mate selection occur: intersexual selection (the choice of a mate where individuals of one sex choose mates of the other sex) and intrasexual selection (the competition for mates between species members of the same sex).
  • Three general mating systems, all involving innate as opposed to learned behaviors, are seen in animal populations: monogamous ( monogamy ), polygynous ( polygyny ), and polyandrous (polyandry).
  • In monogamous systems, one male and one female are paired for at least one breeding season; although in some animals, these partnerships can last even longer, sometimes an entire lifetime; males provide substantial parental care.
  • Polygynous mating refers to one male mating with multiple females; in these situations, the female must be responsible for most of the parental care as the single male is not capable of providing care to that many offspring.
  • In polyandrous mating systems, one female mates with many males; these types of systems are much rarer than monogamous and polygynous mating systems.

Key Terms

  • polyandry: the mating pattern whereby a female copulates with several males
  • polygyny: the mating patterns whereby a male copulates with several females
  • monogamy: a form of sexual bonding involving an exclusive pair bond between two individuals

Finding Sexual Partners

Not all animals reproduce sexually, but many that do have the same challenge: they need to find a suitable mate and often have to compete with other individuals to obtain one. Significant energy is spent in the process of locating, attracting, and mating with a sex partner.

Types of Mate Selection

Two types of selection that occur during the process of choosing a mate may be involved in the evolution of reproductive traits called secondary sexual characteristics. These types are: intersexual selection (the choice of a mate where individuals of one sex choose mates of the other sex) and intrasexual selection (the competition for mates between species members of the same sex). Intersexual selection is often complex because choosing a mate may be based on a variety of visual, aural, tactile, and chemical cues. An example of intersexual selection is when female peacocks choose to mate with the male with the brightest plumage. This type of selection often leads to traits in the chosen sex that do not enhance survival, but are those traits most attractive to the opposite sex (often at the expense of survival). Intrasexual selection involves mating displays and aggressive mating rituals such as rams butting heads; the winner of these battles is the one that is able to mate. Many of these rituals use up considerable energy, but result in the selection of the healthiest, strongest, and/or most dominant individuals for mating.

Mating Systems

Three general mating systems, all involving innate as opposed to learned behaviors, are seen in animal populations: monogamous (monogamy), polygynous (polygyny), and polyandrous (polyandry).

In monogamous systems, one male and one female are paired for at least one breeding season. In some animals, such as the gray wolf, these associations can last much longer, even a lifetime. Several explanations have been proposed for this type of mating system. The “mate-guarding hypothesis” states that males stay with the female to prevent other males from mating with her. This behavior is advantageous in such situations where mates are scarce and difficult to find. Another explanation is the “male-assistance hypothesis,” where males that remain with a female to help guard and rear their young will have more and healthier offspring. Monogamy is observed in many bird populations where, in addition to the parental care from the female, the male is also a major provider of parental care for the chicks. A third explanation for the evolutionary advantages of monogamy is the “female-enforcement hypothesis.” In this scenario, the female ensures that the male does not have other offspring that might compete with her own, so she actively interferes with the male’s signaling to attract other mates.

Polygynous mating refers to one male mating with multiple females. In these situations, the female must be responsible for most of the parental care as the single male is not capable of providing care to that many offspring. In resourced-based polygyny, males compete for territories with the best resources. They then mate with females that enter the territory, drawn to its resource richness. The female benefits by mating with a dominant, genetically-fit male; however, it is at the cost of having no male help in caring for the offspring. An example is seen in the yellow-rumped honeyguide, a bird whose males defend beehives because the females feed on the wax. As the females approach, the male defending the nest will mate with them. Harem mating structures are a type of polygynous system where certain males dominate mating while controlling a territory with resources. Elephant seals, where the alpha male dominates the mating within the group, are an example. A third type of polygyny is a lek system. Here there is a communal courting area where several males perform elaborate displays for females; the females choose their mate from this group. This behavior is observed in several bird species.

In polyandrous mating systems, one female mates with many males. These types of systems are much rarer than monogamous and polygynous mating systems. In pipefishes and seahorses, males receive the eggs from the female, fertilize them, protect them within a pouch, and give birth to the offspring. Therefore, the female is able to provide eggs to several males without the burden of carrying the fertilized eggs.

4.4.2E: Mating Systems and Sexual Selection - Biology

The mating systems of medically important mosquitoes are characterized by aerial swarms, within which many complex behaviors unfold.

Evidence suggests that females mate once, whereas males can mate multiply.

This combined with swarms that consist of many more males than females generates intense mating competition between males and allows females to be choosy.

A lack of data on male and female sexually selected traits and evolutionary relationships between them are a key knowledge gap in these systems.

A comprehensive understanding of mosquito mating biology is essential for the development and successful deployment of reproductive control methods.

The field of mosquito mating biology has experienced a considerable expansion in the past decade. Recent work has generated many key insights about specific aspects of mating behavior and physiology. Here, we synthesize these findings and classify swarming mosquito systems as polygynous. Male mating success is highly variable in swarms and evidence suggests that it is likely determined by both scramble competition between males and female choice. Incorporating this new understanding will improve both implementation and long-term stability of reproductive control tools.

Recent courses

Seminars in Ecology and Evolution

What: At least once a week there are seminars from researchers in ecology or evolution. These seminars are given by local people and by visitors. This semester there are also a number of presentations by job candidates. The point of these seminars is to learn about exciting research. What questions are they asking? What are they discovering? What new scientific stories can we hear about ecology or evolution? What makes up these fields anyway? The seminars are often followed by receptions which are a chance to get to know each other better and to ask questions. This course invites undergraduates to listen to these presentations and write about them. After all, this is a major part of the ideas climate at Wash U. It would be a great idea to get in the habit of going to seminars, with this course, or without. In addition to attending seminars, we will meet three times during the semester, early on and a couple of times later. When: Most seminars are 4:00 on Thursdays, though some are on other days. The three meetings will be arranged at a time that works for the students in the course.

Behavioral Ecology

This course examines animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective and explores the relationships between animal behavior, ecology, and evolution. Topics include mating systems, sexual selection, parental care, kin selection, and cooperation. There is a strong active - learning component.

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Special feature paper: Humans as a model for understanding biological fundamentals.

Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


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Sexual Selection: A Very Short Introduction

Sexual Selection: A Very Short Introduction introduces the astounding array of behaviours and decorative traits in the animal world used for competing for mates, and considers the evolutionary logic that underpins them. It also looks at the history of our understanding of sexual selection, from Darwin’s key insights to the modern day. Considering the investment animals place on reproduction, variation in mating systems, sexual conflict, and the origin of sexual dimorphism, it discusses questions such as whether females can really choose between males on aesthetic grounds, and how sexual conflict is resolved in different species. It concludes with a consideration of the thorny question of how, and even if, sexual selection theory applies to humans.

Bibliographic Information


Marlene Zuk, author Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Author Webpage

Leigh W. Simmons, author Professor in the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia, and Director of the UWA Centre for Evolutionary Biology
Author Webpage

The lek mating system of the worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis): a molecular maternity analysis and test of the phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis

The origin and maintenance of mating preferences continues to be an important and controversial topic in sexual selection research. Leks and lek-like mating systems, where individuals gather in particular spots for the sole purpose of mate choice, are particularly puzzling, because the strong directional selection imposed by mate choice should erode genetic variation among competing individuals and negate any benefit for the choosing sex. Here, we take advantage of the lek-like mating system of the worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis) to test the phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis for the maintenance of mating preferences. We use microsatellite markers to perform a parentage analysis, along with a mark-recapture study, to confirm that the worm pipefish has an unusual mating system that strongly resembles a female lek, where females display and males visit the lek to choose mates. Our results show that the most highly ornamented females occupy positions near the centre of the breeding area, and males mating with these females receive fuller broods with larger eggs compared to males mating with less-ornamented females. We also conduct a laboratory experiment to show that female ornaments are condition-dependent and honestly signal reproductive potential. Overall, these results are consistent with the predictions of a sex-independent version of the phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis, as male preference for female ornaments correlates with fertility benefits.

Keywords: Syngnathidae coloration condition lek mating systems sexual selection.

2 - Behavior, mating systems and sexual selection

Behavior can be defined as anything that an individual does during its life, involving action in response to a stimulus. Eating behavior is stimulated by hunger sleeping or resting behavior is in response to fatigue escape is a response to attack and reproductive behavior is in response to physiological urges and stimulation by members of the opposite sex. Throughout the life of an individual insect it is behaving constantly in one way or another, making behavior a large and important subject.

Many behaviors are in response to external stimuli, part of the environment, making them ecologically relevant, and behavioral ecology is an important part of ecological understanding. Understanding much of behavior results from the study of how species are adapted to the problems of survival and reproduction, and how natural selection shapes the trajectory of a lineage through the costs and benefits, the opportunities and constraints, of any particular genetic and phenotypic change in that lineage.

If you are interested in a career in ecology, resource management, public health or environmental technology, you are in the right spot. You can choose different paths in the major, to focus on ecology and organisms or social and ethical issues surrounding environmental sciences.

Field Botany

Field-based exploration of plant taxonomy, anatomy, evolutionary and ecological relationships and quantitative sampling techniques of plants found in Iowa and the Midwest.

Principles of Ecology w/lab

A study of the interactions between organisms and their environments. Topics to be covered include biomes, plant and animal adaptations, populations, interactions between populations, community structure, ecosystems and large scale ecological processes.

Behavioral Ecology

A study of the behavior of animals in relation to their ecology. Topics include mating systems, sexual selection, parental care, co-evolution, spacing, foraging, communication and social behavior.

4-Year Plan for Success

What courses would I take in this major? What would my four-year plan include? What opportunities outside of the classroom would benefit me?

4.4.2E: Mating Systems and Sexual Selection - Biology

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Watch the video: Sexual Selection - The Basics. Emphasis on Fishes. Koaw Nature (January 2022).