Monogamy and Human Evolution

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

01zimmer-3-articleLarge“Monogamy is a problem,” said Dieter Lukas of the University of Cambridge in a telephone news conference last week. As Dr. Lukasexplained to reporters, he and other biologists consider monogamy an evolutionary puzzle.

In 9 percent of all mammal species, males and females will share a common territory for more than one breeding season, and in some cases bond for life. This is a problem — a scientific one — because male mammals could theoretically have more offspring by giving up on monogamy and mating with lots of females.

In a new study, Dr. Lukas and his colleague Tim Clutton-Brock suggest that monogamy evolves when females spread out, making it hard for a male to travel around and fend off competing males.

On the same day, Kit Opie of University College London and his colleagues published a similar study on primates, which are especially monogamous — males and females bond in over a quarter of primate species. The London scientists came to a different conclusion: that the threat of infanticide leads males to stick with only one female, protecting her from other males.

Even with the scientific problem far from resolved, research like this inevitably turns us into narcissists. It’s all well and good to understand why the gray-handed night monkey became monogamous. But we want to know: What does this say about men and women?

More here.