Led by Dr. Maren Huck, past project postdoctoral researcher and now professor at the University of Derby, the authors show that genetic analyses of 37 offspring from 17 adult pairs reveal zero extra-pair copulations. In other words, owl monkeys don’t cheat on their partners.
The paper discusses an important distinction between social monogamy, a system of pair-living animals that only may communally raise offspring, and genetic monogamy, wherein copulations outside the these pair are wholly absent. Mammals include a small but significant number of socially-monogamous species, yet researchers have only documented genetic monogamy in four species (a species of mouse, rat, an antelope dik-dik, and coyote). This makes owl monkeys the first primates shown to be genetically monogamous.
The rarity of genetic monogamy begs the question of why it evolves at all. Huck and colleagues investigated the possibility that paternal care, a prominent feature of owl monkey life, is strongly linked to genetic monogamy by examining 15 pair-living mammals.
“Social monogamy is no guarantee for genetic monogamy” the authors write. The findings suggest that pair-living mammals are more likely to commit to the evolutionary leap of genetic monogamy if pairs spend very little time independent of one another and if males offer intense care.
Although this paper analyzes the most complete dataset of pair-bonded mammals available, Huck’s team points out the scantness of genetic studies on “allegedly” monogamous mammals. The amount of data on birds published by ornithologists dwarfs what they could assemble for these 15 monogamous species. Owl monkeys are the first primates shown to be faithful partners, but they may not be the last.