Animal Mating Systems


The term mating system refers to the way in which individuals are grouped in relation to mating, and/or characteristics of mate acquisition and mating behaviour. Animal mating systems are incredibly diverse and have been most generally classified as monogamous (a single male and single female mate exclusively with one another) or polygamous (males and/or females mate with multiple individuals). There are three classic polygamous mating systems: polygyny (a male mates with more than one female), polyandry (a female mates with more than one male) and polygynandry (both males and females have more than one mate). Some researchers have developed more specific mating system classifications, and this remains an area of active research. Mating systems are influenced by many factors, including the spatial and temporal distribution of sexually receptive males and females, resource availability and distribution, male and female life history, sexual selection and parental care.

Key Concepts:

  • Mating system refers to the way in which individuals are grouped in relation to mating and/or details of mating dynamics.

  • Animal mating systems are highly variable within and between taxonomic groups.

  • Mating systems are dynamic and change through time.

  • Common mating systems include monogamy, polygyny, polygamy and polygynandry.

  • More specific descriptors of mating systems have been developed that account for pair bond duration, resource use and defence and behaviour such as parental care.

  • Animal mating systems are affected by the spatial and temporal distribution of receptive mates, resource use and defence, male and female life history, sexual selection and parental care.

Keywords: mating systems; sexual selection; life history; monogamy; polygamy; polyandry; polygyny

Figure 1.

Numerous factors affect mating system dynamics. Here, I outline some of the factors that determine animal mating systems. This is not an exhaustive list, and determining how each of these factors influences mating system dynamics is the focus of current research in evolutionary ecology.



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Klug, Hope(Aug 2011) Animal Mating Systems. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022553]