The evolutionary history of primate mating systems

Christopher Opie, Quentin D. Atkinson, Susanne Shultz

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, so it is hard to infer the evolutionary history of social traits. However, we have shown elsewhere that Bayesian phylogenetic methods allow the investigation of ancestral states and models of evolution of social grouping behavior in primates. Here, we extend this analysis to another significant aspect of primate social life, which may be subject to different evolutionary pressures - mating systems. We show that mating systems evolved from a polygynandrous state at the root of the phylogeny to the two derived states of harem-polygyny and monogamy. Unlike social organization, where there were no transitions from uni-male groups to pairs, here we found positive transition rates from both polygynous mating states into monogamy. There were no transitions out of monogamy to another mating state. Both derived mating systems evolved late in primate evolution. Nocturnal primates remained solitary foragers while their mating systems evolved from polygynandry to harem-polygyny and monogamy. However, among diurnal primates the derived mating states evolved at the same time as the derived states of social organization. © 2012 Landes Bioscience.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)458-461
    Number of pages3
    JournalCommunicative and Integrative Biology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


    • Bayesian phylogenetics
    • Mating systems
    • Monogamy
    • Phylogeny
    • Polygynandry
    • Polygyny
    • Primates


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