Sexual conflict in a polygynous primate: costs and benefits of a male-imposed mating system
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- Swedell, L., Leedom, L., Saunders, J. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2014) 68: 263. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1641-3
Fundamental reproductive interests dictate that females generally benefit most from mate selectivity and males from mate quantity. This can create conflict between the sexes and result in sexual coercion: male use of aggression to garner mating success at a cost to females. Potential fitness costs of sexual coercion, however, can be difficult to measure. Here, we demonstrate benefits to males and costs to females of female defense polygyny in wild hamadryas baboons, cercopithecoid primates in which females are coercively transferred among social units by males, restricting both female choice and bonding among female kin. Of all coercive transfers (takeovers) of females with young infants, 67 % were followed by infant mortality, which was significantly more likely to occur after takeovers than at other times. As expected, infant mortality decreased time to subsequent conception but lengthened intervals between surviving infants. Following infant survival, whether a female had experienced a takeover after the previous birth was a significant predictor of subsequent interbirth interval, with interbirth intervals of females remaining with the same male between births being significantly shorter than those of females incurring takeovers between births. Together, these results reveal that takeovers increase the chance of infant mortality while delaying subsequent conception. Male-driven female defense polygyny in this species is thus costly to females in two ways. These results demonstrate that reproductive strategies benefitting males can evolve despite substantial costs to females. These costs may be mitigated over the long term, however, by female counterstrategies and protective behavior by males.