Black holes, mate retention, and the evolution of ungulate leks

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Authors: Stillman, R.A., Cutton-brock, T.H. and Sutherland, W.J.

Journal: Behavioral Ecology

Volume: 4

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-6

ISSN: 1045-2249

DOI: 10.1093/beheco/4.1.1

In some ungulates living in unstable herds, females in estrus leave their usual groups and join males defending mating territories. During the 12-24 h before mating, females commonly move several times between males. These movements are commonly caused by harems being disrupted by young males or by overenthusiastic courtship by the territorial male. When females leave a territory they typically move to its nearest neighbor. Under these circumstances, clusters of territories can retain estrous females until they mate and leave the lek. This paper develops a model to investigate the benefits of defending clustered versus dispersed territories to males and the consequences of variation in the rate of female movement between territories (P m ) and the tendency for females to move from one territory to a neighboring territory (a). Where females move between territories at least once every 24 h (P m < 0.04) and usually move to neighboring territories (a < 0.5), the mating success of males is inversely related to the distance from their territory to its nearest neighbor, and males defending clustered territories have higher mating rates than those defending dispersed territories. This process may be important in the initial evolution of ungulate leks, which may resemble black holes, attracting and retaining estrous females until they mate and their estrus ceases. It provides one possible explanation of the evolution of ungulate leks that does not rely on female preferences for mating with particular phenotypic categories of males. © 1993 International Society for Behavioral Ecology.

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