Animals in sex study31st January 2013
Contrary to previous belief, monogamy is not the norm amongst most animal species. Females instead choose to mate with multiple male partners in a process known as polyandry.
The research, led by Oxford researchers Dr Tom Pizzari and Grant McDonald, was published in the latest edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
In a development that suggests most animal species are more discerning than many Oxford students on nights out, the report claims that sexual interactions within such polyandrous societies are not at all random. Individuals choose and compete over mates within non-random social groups.
This led the researchers to suggest that these animals have advanced beyond the simple Facebook stage and have formed complex sexual social networks.
A first-year Lincoln student commented: “Although it may seem that these animals have more raunchy action that us with their ‘sexual networks’, the rumours circulating about the Oxford J.R.R Tolkein Society certainly suggest otherwise. Have you actually seen one of their so-called ‘dramatic re-enactments’? I didn’t think so.”
Explaining the study, Dr Pizzari said: “For centuries naturalists believed that most organisms played a very simple mating game in which a subset of males and females in the population would form monogamous reproductive pairs.
“Darwin identified sexual selection, the selection of this successful subset, as the agent responsible for the evolution of a bewildering diversity of extravagant traits utilised in competition over reproductive opportunities.”
The study, ‘Sexual networks: measuring sexual selection in structured, polyandrous populations’, forms part of a new wave of scientific research aimed at using polyandry to understand a wide range of evolutionary processes, including genetic selfishness and conservation.
Dr Pizzari added: “By using the information gained from studying ‘sexual networks’ we can dissect the way that sexual selection operates on a particular trait both in the local and global population.
“The study demonstrates that this new approach allows for more accurate estimates of sexual selection particularly at intermediate levels of polyandry.
“We can also use our approach to examine the spread and impact of sexually-transmitted diseases across a particular population.”