Monogamous relationships in mammals is one way for those species to ensure the propagation of their genes. Females typically give birth to and care for their young, and lactation allows them a way to provide food as well. This would seemingly make the presence of males unnecessary beyond the act of mating. However, the lack of presence has two major drawbacks. It would not aid to ensure the longevity of the offspring’s life, nor guarantee the male that the offspring is theirs. Therefore, it is believed that monogamous relationships exist to allow for the care, feeding and protection of their young from birth to maturity.
While that view imbues that social monogamy is definitely advantageous, it does not say much to the evolutionary cause of its appearance. The search for the cause is the focus of Opie et al. and Lukas and Clutton-Block in their respective articles.
After examining the hypotheses of parental care, mate guarding and infanticide risk, Opie et al. found male infanticide to be the likely cause of social monogamy. In the case of parental care, they believed it to have “followed the appearance of social monogamy” and “Although this behavior can make monogamy more profitable (15), it appears not to be the cause of monogamy.” Mate guarding in turn is deemed as “not ubiquitous to in socially monogamous mammals”. They found male infanticide to be the most likely root cause, as monogamy allows for “high risk offspring” and male infanticide “consistently preceded the appearance of social monogamy among primates”.
Lukas and Clutton-Brock instead come to the conclusion that it is a combination of high feeding competition between females, their subsequent dislike of each other, and low population density that led to social monogamy. They too analyze various factors, and found paternal care, specifically from the males, to be “a consequence rather than a cause of the evolution”. Male infanticide was found to not play a part in that evolution either, as their studies suggest “an independent evolution of the two traits”.
Lukas and Clutton-Brock have a more persuasive scientific argument based on the level of data and range of inference drawn from their work. While Opie et al. draws heavily from their references to make their arguments, Lukas and Clutton-Brock cite their data directly in their article. They also list the methods they used very clearly at the end of their discussion section. In terms of references, they also outnumber Opie et al. 44 to 31, and Opie et al. cite two works of Clutton-Brock in their own article.
These articles changed my understanding in that I finally understood some reasons as to why monogamy in primates exists, versus why the existence of monogamy is advantageous. Both pieces provided a wealth of information and inferences to the varying factors that may contribute to the evolution and preservation of primate monogamy, and while Opie et al. and Lukas and Clutton-Brock came to different conclusions, their overlap on those factors served to balance out my view of what could have contributed most to this social development. Lukas and Clutton-Brock surprised me the most though with the amount of data they had collected and presented for their article, as well as the number of hypotheses they addressed. Together I believe these articles are very comprehensive in the topic that was studied, and can allow some insight to this being the precursor to our human monogamy.
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