Unexpected Strong Polygyny in the Brown-Throated Three-Toed Sloth
Pauli, J.N. and Peery, M.Z., 2012. Unexpected strong polygyny in the brown-throated three-toed sloth. PloS one, 7(12), p.e51389.
Promiscuous mating strategies are much more common than previously appreciated. So much so, that several authors have proposed that promiscuity is the “rule” rather than the exception in vertebrate mating systems. Decreasing species mobility and increasing habitat fragmentation have both been suggested to reduce the “polygyny potential” of the environment and promote other mating strategies like promiscuity in females. We explored the social and genetic mating system for one of the most sedentary extant mammals, the brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), within a highly fragmented Neotropical habitat. Surprisingly, we found that three-toed sloths were strongly polygynous, with males excluding male competitors from their core ranges, and exhibiting strong reproductive skew. Indeed, only 25% of all resident adult males sired offspring and one individual sired half of all sampled juveniles. Paradoxically, a sedentary life-history strategy seems to facilitate polygyny in fragmented landscapes because multiple females can persist within small patches of habitat, and be monopolized by a single male. Our work demonstrates that strong polygyny can arise in systems in which the polygyny potential should be extremely low, and other strategies, including promiscuity, would be favoured. Mating systems can be influenced by a multitude of factor and are dynamic, varying among taxa, over time, and across habitats; consequently, mating systems remain difficult to predict based on general ecological principles.
Key words: Bradypus, variegatus, ecology, biology, genetics, reproduction