Experimental manipulation suggests effect of polyandry but not mate familiarity on within-pair aggression in the social skink, Liopholis whitii

  • Thomas Botterill-James
  • Jacinta Sillince
  • Tobias Uller
  • David G. Chapple
  • Michael G. Gardner
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Geoffrey M. WhileEmail author
Original Article


Long-term monogamy is a key characteristic of family living across animals. The evolutionary maintenance of long-term monogamy has been suggested to be facilitated by increased reproductive coordination as a result of mate familiarity, leading to increased reproductive success. However, such effects can be compromised if females mate outside the pair bond (e.g. female polyandry), introducing conflicts of interest between the male and female. Here, we experimentally test the effects of both mate familiarity and female polyandry on agonistic behaviour and reproduction in a family living lizard, Liopholis whitii. We found that mate familiarity did not decrease the level of aggression between pairs whereas reducing female polyandry did. However, we did not find an effect of either mate familiarity or female polyandry on female reproductive output. These results suggest that male behavioural responses to female polyandry may influence pair stability in Liopholis whitii, providing support for the growing appreciation of the multiple ways in which female polyandry can influence the stability of family living.

Significance statement

Family living is underpinned by social pair bonds between adults (i.e. stable social monogamy). Therefore, key to understanding the emergence and maintenance of family living is identifying factors influencing pair bonds. We manipulated both female polyandry and mate familiarly in replicated enclosure experiment using social lizards to test their role in mediating within-pair aggression and ultimately the coordination of reproductive behaviour and hence reproductive output. We found that polyandry but not mate familiarity influenced levels of aggression between pairs but this did not transmit into concomitant effects on reproductive output.


Egernia Lizard Mate familiarity Monogamy Polyandry Sociality 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on earlier versions of the MS.

Compliance with ethical standards


The work was funded by the Australian Research Council (DP150102900 to GMW, TU, DGC and MGG and DE150100336 awarded to GMW) and the Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund (to TBJ).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All work was carried out with approval from the Animal Ethics Committee at the University of Tasmania (Ethics Approval Number A0015058).

Data availability statement

All data associated with this paper is available on dryad (doi: 10.5061/dryad.rm95m).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Botterill-James
    • 1
  • Jacinta Sillince
    • 1
  • Tobias Uller
    • 2
    • 3
  • David G. Chapple
    • 4
  • Michael G. Gardner
    • 5
  • Erik Wapstra
    • 1
  • Geoffrey M. While
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Evolutionary Biology UnitSouth Australian MuseumAdelaideAustralia

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