, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 73-92

A new interpretation of the social organization and mating system of the Callitrichidae

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Abstract

Tamarins and marmosets are usually described as monogamous, or as living in extended family groups. Field research on a variety of callitrichid species shows, however, that immigration and emigration by adults are common and that groups are likely to be composed largely of unrelated adults of both sexes. Despite the number of adult females present in a group, only a single female is usually reproductively active. This female may mate with more than one male. Care for the young is provided by all group members but principally by adult males. This generally is referred to as a “communal breeding system. ” However, a vertebrate social system in which more than two reproductively active adults participate in infant care is rare and has otherwise been reported only in a small number of avian and canid species. Wild callitrichid groups virtually always include helpers, but the number of adults of each sex is highly variable. We propose that the Callitrichidae tend to live in small multimalemultifemale groups, communally rear the young of one female, and exhibit a mating pattern characterized by female promiscuity but a breeding system that is functionally polyandrous. There is a significant correlation between the number of males and a group and the total number of surviving young. The possible adaptive advantages of this social organization are discussed.

An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF02737392.