Monogamy evolved in men for a reason

By Efrosini Costa

Monogamy evolved in men for a reason
Two studies have finally found the evolutionary answers for why men developed to be monogamous.

In the animal kingdom, only a handful of mammal species remain monogamous throughout their lives. The fact that some species evolved to choose one mate for life and others haven’t has long remained a mystery to researchers.

Some among us prescribe to the idea that men are just naturally wired to be promiscuous and drift from mate to mate.

But two separate studies released this week beg to differ.

They both found that by sticking to one female mate, males of various species – especially primates – increased their chances of having offspring who survived long enough to reproduce.

Monogamy as a behaviour therefore allowed men to ensure their lineage survived the brutal process of natural selection.

The evolutionary advantages of being monogamous for males are so clear that the studies reached ‘competing’ conclusions about which benefit was greatest.

According to research published in the National Academy of Sciences, protecting offspring from infanticide – or death at the hands of competing males – was paramount to monogamy evolving.

“This is the first time that the theories for the evolution of monogamy have been systematically tested, conclusively showing that infanticide is the driver of monogamy,” said anthropologist Christopher Opie, from the University College London and the lead author of the NAS paper.

“This brings to a close the long-running debate about the origin of monogamy in primates.”

However, authors of the separate Science journal study disagreed.

Zoologists from the University of Cambridge, Dieter Lukas and Tim Clutton-Brock, concluded that infanticide played little if any role in the development of monogamy.

In fact, they argue that the behaviour arose when females guarded large territories and would not tolerate other females entering their turf, while males stuck close to their mates because philandering put him at risk of her rivals.

“Monogamy arose where guarding a single female was a male’s best reproductive strategy,” argued Clutton-Brock.

The care that faithful fathers provided their offspring became even more advantageous, since it ensured the brood’s survival from murderous marauders and also alleviated some of the childcare burden from the mother – preserving her health and allowing her to in turn bear more offspring.

“Humans are such unusual animals, depending so excessively on culture, which changes so many of the ground rules of evolution,” said Clutton-Brock.

Though they differ in their research propositions, the two studies come to the same conclusion; monogamy is a winning strategy for the survival of the fittest.

More research will be needed to determine which evolutionary benefit – preventing infanticide or guarding against the consequences of disloyalty – was most influential in the development of monogamy in some mammals.

But while scientists develop greater insights into the behaviour of animals, the issue of monogamy for humans still remains less clear.

“Humans are such unusual animals, depending so excessively on culture, which changes so many of the ground rules of evolution,” said Clutton-Brock.

“It is possible that [human] monogamy is a very recent, cultural arrangement of marriage within groups,” added Lukas.


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