The evolutionary history of primate mating systems

Christopher Opie, Quentin D Atkinson, Susanne Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


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 behaviour 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-61
Number of pages4
JournalCommunicative & Integrative Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2012


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