Why "monogamy" isn't good enough

Stacey R. Tecot, Britt Singletary, Elizabeth Eadie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Rare in mammals but more common in primates, there remains a considerable controversy concerning whether primate species traditionally described as monogamous actually express this highly specialized breeding pattern. Unfortunately the definition of "monogamy" varies greatly, inhibiting our understanding of this trait and two related traits with which monogamy is often conflated: pair-living and pair-bonding. Strepsirrhine primates are useful models to study factors that select for pair-living, pair-bonding, and monogamy because this taxon exhibits high incidences of each trait, in addition to species that exhibit behaviors that reflect combinations of these traits. Several hypotheses have been articulated to help explain the evolution of "monogamy," but again, these hypotheses often conflate pair-living, pair-bonding, and/or monogamy. In this review, we (1) propose clear, discrete, and logical definitions for each trait; (2) review variation in strepsirrhines with respect to these three traits; (3) clarify which of these traits can be explained by existing hypotheses; and (4) provide an example of the applicability of the Resource Defense Hypothesis (RDH) to understand two of these traits, pair-living and pair-bonding, in the red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer). Available data support the RDH for pair-living in red-bellied lemurs. They live in stable family groups with one adult pair. Both sexes actively codefend territories that overlap little with other pairs' territories. Agonism is extremely rare within groups and intergroup and interspecific agonism varies with food availability. Available data also support the RDH for pair-bonding. Pair-bonds are cohesive year-round. Pairs coordinate behaviors to defend territories with auditory and olfactory signals. Cohesion increases with food abundance and both sexes reinforce bonds. We indicate where additional data will help to more rigorously test the RDH for each trait and encourage others to test alternative hypotheses. Am. J. Primatol. 78:340-354, 2016.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-354
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Lemur
  • Monogamy
  • Pair-bonding
  • Pair-living
  • Resource defense hypothesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Why "monogamy" isn't good enough'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this