Females have traditionally been viewed as the choosy, monogamous sex compared to males, but recent genetic studies have revealed that females of many, if not most, animal species also mate multiply with different partners. However, understanding why females should do this has remained something of enigma.
Speaking at the British Ecological Societys Annual Meeting, Dr William Hughes of the University of Sydney and Professor Jacobus Boomsma of the University of Copenhagen will announce the results of their experiments with Panamanian ants, which show that mating with many different males (polyandry) produces colonies that are more resistant to disease. According to Hughes: “This study shows that genetically diverse groups of social insects are more resistant to disease than genetically homogenous groups.”
Sex is a costly business for most animals, using precious energy and exposing the female to the risks of being predated or of catching a disease, notably those that are sexually transmitted. For many species ecologists don’t yet understand why females should engage in this costly behaviour because it has been hard to identify how the female benefits.
Becky Allen | alfa
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