Polygynous Mating Strategies

The most typical mammalian mating system is polygyny, which is most likely a result of the predominance of female specialization in newborn nutritional supply and care and male specialization in mating activity. Several men in highly polygynous species will have many children, while many others will not. In polygynous species, fierce male competition for reproductive access leads to the selection of tactics that increase competitive success at the expense of longevity.

Polygynous Mating Strategies in Humans

Even though humans are significantly less polygynous than most other primates, male reproductive success is still significantly more variable than that of females. In humans, mating competition is a powerful selection force because a small number of males receive an abnormally high number of mating, leading to a positively skewed distribution of male reproductive success.

According to biologists, the degree of male mating rivalry is directly and favourably associated with increased sexual dimorphism, in which men are more significant than females. The average size of females is 80% of that of males, indicating that humans are at least slightly polygynous. The vast majority of societies that anthropologists have studied (84%) have polygyny.

Human populations differ in their levels of polygyny, which is correlated with elements like high pathogen stress and high male death in battle. Where males have different quality territories, as well as in human communities where there is a significant imbalance in resources and social rank, polygyny is most prevalent. The level of polygyny probably reflects how fierce the struggle for male mates is. Male mortality rates would rise with greater levels of competition.

Polygyny Threshold Model

According to the polygyny threshold model, females are more likely to mate multiple times when the benefits outweigh the costs of doing so (such as acquiring a male with plenty of resources and superior genes) and the costs (such as sharing his resources and competing with other females and their offspring). This frequently happens in species where the genetic quality of the males and the resources they may amass and monopolies differ significantly.

The polygyny threshold paradigm has some support in human populations. For instance, many women prefer to mate with wealthy, high-status men rather than poor, low-status men who would be unable to sustain a family, and polygyny is more likely to occur in situations with high levels of pathogens where the genetic makeup of men is essential.

Polygynous mating occurs among various monkey species (e.g., proboscis monkeys), the hamadryas baboon, and occasionally languars, in addition to the famous case of gorillas. Male reproductive success in polygynous species is very varied, partly due to highly dominant males monopolising female reproductive capability and leaving other men with no mating chances. As a result, sexual selection processes in polygynous species are exceptionally robust, and secondary sexual features are frequently accentuated.

In humans, ethnological studies of preindustrial civilizations reveal that more than 80% accept or have tolerated polygynous marriages. Securing many brides considerably improves reproductive success for males in foraging communities, indicating that past selection forces would have rewarded men who preferred multiple mating partners. Evidence also implies that men are powerful in foraging societies and accumulate the most significant resources when feasible.

Thus they gain from marrying more than one woman. Men may defend status-related resources and equal resource and labour distribution to gain several partners. Some claim that in foraging communities, men may protect women against aggression from other men as a sort of harem or female-defence polygyny.

Age-specific Polygynous Mating Strategies

Most organisms can be classified according to phases like size, age, or any other attribute that affects fertility or survival. Stage-specific allocation between the current and upcoming reproductive event will depend on how well an individual reproduces at each stage. In other words, a person's mating strategy at a certain period may be influenced by its natural stage.

For instance, it has been hypothesized that older men should exhibit higher degrees of polygyny than younger males since they have proven their worth through their longevity and are preferred by or better at wooing females. These opinions have already been theoretically and experimentally refuted. They rely on the idea that lifespan and the capacity to pass on good genes are related, even though some species' old males' fertility is diminished in laboratory settings.

Regarding mating strategies, age-specific phenotypic plasticity has shown that the most successful age classes for females were less polyandrous than others, even if polygyny was necessary for all males to maximise their reproductive success. Hence, when both sexes are functioning at their peak levels, there appears to be a conflict between them about the number of partners: males maximize their partner count while females can lower their partner count while still optimizing companion quality.

Implications of Polygynous Mating Strategies

Males in polygynous mammals compete fiercely for access to females because male reproductive success is more unpredictable than female reproductive success, and just a few males can access the majority of females. Other mating techniques (such as sneak copulations, where access to females by fighting is likely to fail) have been demonstrated in several species under these conditions.

However, the importance of female alternative strategies has largely gone unnoticed until recently, especially in polygynous systems where it is assumed that females choose dominant males because it is adaptive to do so or alternative male strategies serve to force uncooperative females to mate with subordinate males.

Male alternative mating methods may impact the reproductive success of females. For instance, females are frequently the target of harassment in polygynous species, either directly as males compete for access to females or inadvertently due to hostile interactions between males. In addition to more conventional drivers like resource distribution, patterns of male harassment may play a significant role in determining social structure. The high reproductive skew seen in polygynous mating systems may result from dominant males monopolizing access to females and limiting female choice. As a result, females may not always select to mate with dominant males.


In contemporary civilizations, it is frequently against the law for men of high positions and means to have several spouses. However, some evidence suggests that high-status modern men still have a more significant potential for fertility by copulating more frequently, having sex with more partners, participating in more extra pair copulations or affairs, and engaging in legalized de facto polygyny by divorce and remarriage over time with several highly fertile women.

Men with other qualities that women prize highly, such as intelligence, dominance, athleticism, above-average height, and maturity, also seem to exhibit these high-fertility tendencies. Polygyny exhibits adaptive patterns when viewed in the context of foraging societies' ecological settings.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


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