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Temporal and spatial opportunities for polygamy in a monogamous seahorse, Hippocampus whitei

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The sex with the higher potential reproductive rate is expected to mate polygamously unless there are temporal or spatial constraints on mate availability. We investigated whether such constraints were evident in a population of the monogamous seahorse Hippocampus whitei (family Syngnathidae). Across the whole study site, breeding was more asynchronous than expected by chance. Our findings are thus compatible with the hypothesis that asynchronous breeding may promote and/or maintain monogamy. Asynchrony per se was unlikely to explain monogamy entirely, however, as temporal opportunities for polygamy remained and the males that were nearest one another had the lowest level of asynchrony. Moreover, each animal's home range overlapped with home ranges of potential mates other than their partner, implying a lack of spatial constraints on polygamy. We suggest that H. whitei mated monogamously because the benefits of polygamy were reduced by (1) only small differences in the potential reproductive rates of males and females and/or (2) a mate familiarity effect that increased reproductive success in successive matings. Further research could investigate relationships between mating pattern and varying intersexual differences in potential reproductive rates across syngnathid species.

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