Male Mate Guarding in a Socially Monogamous Mammal, the Round-Eared Sengi: On Costs and Trade-Offs

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Mate guarding is predicted to be one of the driving forces for the evolution of monogamy, but supporting evidence in free-living mammals is rare. The goals of our study were three-pronged. First, we tested if mate guarding, measured as intrapair distance, occurs as a behavioral tactic in round-eared sengis (Macroscelides proboscideus), a socially monogamous species lacking paternal care and in which females breed asynchronously, producing 2–3 litters during an 8-month long breeding season. Second, we determined if mate guarding involves costs which we identified as changes in male body mass. Third, we investigated whether variation in individual investment in mate guarding depended on the males’ body mass and the number of neighboring males. Field data were collected in a semidesert in South Africa using radio-tracking, trapping, and direct observations during three successive breeding seasons. Mate guarding strongly depended on the females’ reproductive state, and all males started to guard their mates prior to and during estrus, as exemplified by reduced intrapair distance. Mate guarding incurred costs: overall, males lost about 5% of body mass. Male body mass loss and initial body mass were negatively related to the intensity of precopulatory mate guarding. Furthermore, during estrus intrapair distance was inversely correlated with the number of neighboring males. The results show that mate guarding is the predominant male tactic in round-eared sengis. However, since mate guarding imposed costs, males may balance benefits and costs associated with guarding by varying their effort in relation to their physical capabilities and the competitive environment.





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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology