'Sexual networks' reveal complex mating game

January 22, 2013

(Phys.org)—Social networks can be used to describe the sexual interactions in animal populations and reveal which individuals are directly competing in the 'mating game', according to new Oxford University research.

These 'sexual networks' can unlock how operates in where females often mate with multiple males. The network-based approach could also help to study the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

A report of the research appears in a specially-themed issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

'For centuries naturalists believed that most organisms played a very simple in which a subset of in the population would form monogamous reproductive pairs,' said Dr Tom Pizzari of Oxford University's Department of Zoology who led the research with Oxford colleague Grant McDonald. '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.'

Yet recent studies have undermined this simple view of sexual interactions. They show that, far from being monogamous, females often mate with multiple males – a process called polyandry – and that the sexual dynamics within polyandrous societies are typically highly-structured with being far from random as individuals choose and compete over mates within non-random groups.

'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 ,' said Dr Pizzari. '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.'

The study, entitled 'Sexual networks: measuring sexual selection in structured, polyandrous populations' is part of a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B edited by Tom Pizzari of Oxford University and Nina Wedell of Exeter University. The issue shows how polyandry is emerging as a lens through which scientists can better resolve their understanding of a diverse range of ecological and evolutionary processes, from selfish genetic elements to extinction risk and conservation.

Explore further: Sex in the morning or the evening?

More information: rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1613/20120356.full

Related Stories

Sex in the morning or the evening?

June 26, 2007

Most research on sexual conflict ignores the fact that the fitness pay-offs of mating may change drastically over a short timescale, for example over a single day.

In spiders, size matters: Small males are more often meals

September 10, 2008

Female spiders are voracious predators and consume a wide range of prey, which sometimes includes their mates. A number of hypotheses have been proposed for why females eat males before or after mating. Researchers Shawn ...

Why do we choose our mates? Ask Charles Darwin, prof says

June 16, 2009

Charles Darwin wrote about it 150 years ago: animals don't pick their mates by pure chance - it's a process that is deliberate and involves numerous factors. After decades of examining his work, experts agree that he pretty ...

Studies suggest males have more personality

November 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Males have more pronounced personalities than females across a range of species - from humans to house sparrows - according to new research. Consistent personality traits, such as aggression and daring, are ...

Old males win sex battle

June 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Old roosters can still dominate the sexual pecking order even when their ability to fertilise eggs drastically declines, new Oxford University research has shown.

Promiscuity pays in the frog world

February 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research shows that the offspring of promiscuous female frogs have a higher rate of survival than those who remain monogamous, according to Macquarie University biologist, Associate Professor Martin Whiting.

Recommended for you

Head and body lice read DNA differently

July 28, 2015

What makes head lice different from body lice had scientists scratching their heads as previous genetic studies failed to find any substantial differences between the two types of lice.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.