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The Evolution of Monogamy in Large Primates: a New Hypothesis and Some Crucial Tests

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Monogamy among the large primates is not accompanied by high levels of male care for infants. The selective pressures that have led to its evolution in this case are far from clear. In this paper, we evaluate and test four different hypotheses. Monogamy in these species did not evolve because males are unable to defend access to more than one female. Hence, it must be related to behavioural services provided by the male which substantially increase the female's reproductive output. Existing data argue against the suggestion that these services involve protection against predators or defence of an exclusive feeding area. We propose that the male's service consists primarily in protecting the female against infanticide by other males. Tests that would differentiate this hypothesis unequivocally from other hypotheses are suggested. To the extent that these predictions can be tested with the data currently available, the evidence supports the infanticide hypothesis. We speculate that infanticide avoidance is also responsible for the near-universal occurrence among primates of male-female bonds.

Affiliations: 1: (Ethology and Socioecology, Laboratory of Comparative Physiology, University of Utrecht, P.O. Box 80086, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands; 2: Department of Anthropology, University College London, Gower St, London WC1E 6BT, England


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