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Is play behavior sexually dimorphic in monogamous species?


Monogamy is a relatively rare social system in mammals, occurring only in about 3% of mammalian species. Monogamous species are characterized by the formation of pair-bonds, biparental care, and a very low level of sexual dimorphism. Whereas in most polygynous species males engage in more rough-and-tumble play than females, we predicted that males and females of monogamous species would have similar, or monomorphic, play behavior. In this study, we focused on two monogamous species: coppery titi monkeys (Callicebus cupreus) and prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). We documented the development of play behavior in both species, and quantified different types of play behavior. We did not find any sex differences in either species in the frequencies and types of play. However, we did find sex differences in the choice of play partner in titi monkeys: female offspring spent a higher proportion of time playing with their father, while male offspring played equally with their mother and father. It is possible that rough-and-tumble play behavior is monomorphic in many monogamous mammals, perhaps reflecting differences from polygynous species in the effects of exposure to early androgens or in the estrogen receptor distribution. However, more subtle differences in monomorphic play behavior, such as choice of partner, may still exist. © 2008 The Authors.

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