Griffin MJ, Holwell GI & Symonds MRE (2019) Insect harem polygyny: when is a harem not a harem? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 73: 40
What’s it about? Harem polygyny is a mating system well known from mammalian examples like elephant seals and red deer. It refers to mating systems where a male is associated (and appears to guard) a group of females for mating. Much less well known is that there is a whole bunch of insect species that have been described as harem polygynous, including bark beetles and weta (conveniently the two study groups that Melissa studies). We review the insect harem polygyny, and examine the occurrence of behaviours/traits commonly associated with harem polygyny (large males, maternal care, temporally long associations). We find that in almost no case does any insect described as harem polygynous actually have all these characteristics. Hence we doubt whether harem polygyny (aside from the inaccurate cultural anthropomorphic problems with the term harem) is an accurate description of most of these ‘harem polygynous’ insect mating systems.
What’s the story behind it? The first paper from Melissa’s thesis was this review, which was boiled down from a longer review on harem polygyny to focus much more tightly on insects (to its benefit). It serves as a nice introduction also to the rest of Melissa’s thesis which expounds on similar themes (they are not harems!). Interestingly, after we published the paper we were contacted by two researchers on Cardiocondyla ants who pointed out that actually the associated characteristics we identify ARE shown in those ants (we missed this). So, perhaps there is one ‘harem polygynous’ ant.
[…] PhD project (after the excoriating review of ‘harem polygyny’ in insects published in 2019). It makes use of a study system I’ve worked on since the mid 2000s – Ips bark beetles. […]