Monogamy in mammals

Q Rev Biol. 1977 Mar;52(1):39-69. doi: 10.1086/409721.


This review considers the behavioral, ecological, and reproductive characteristics of mammals exhibiting monogamy, i.e., mating exclusivity. From a discussion of the life histories of selected species of monogamous primates, carnivores, rodents and ungulates, several trends emerge. Two forms of monogamy occur, Type I, facultative, and Type II, obligate. The selective pressures leading to these two forms of monogamy may have been different. Facultative monogamy may result when a species exists at very low densities, with males and females being so spaced that only a single member of the opposite sex is available for mating. Obligate monogamy appears to occur when a solitary female cannot rear a litter without aid from conspecifics, but the carrying capacity of the habitat is insufficient to allow more than one female to breed simultaneously within the same home range. Within both types of monogamy, the following traits are typically seen: (1) adults show little sexual dimorphism either physically or behaviorally: (2) the adult male and female exhibit infrequent socio-sexual interactions except during the early stages of pair bond formation. Additional trends specific to mammals exhibiting obligate monogamy are: (1) the young exhibit delayed sexual maturation in the presence of the parents, and thus only the adult pair breeds; (2) the older juveniles aid in rearing young siblings; and (3) the adult male (father) aids in the rearing of young by any or all of the following: carrying, feeding, defending, and socializing offspring.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birth Weight
  • Ecology
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Grooming
  • Humans
  • Mammals / growth & development
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Pair Bond*
  • Paternal Behavior
  • Primates / physiology
  • Reproduction
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Sexual Maturation
  • Social Behavior