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Promiscuity Paperback – 2 May 2000

5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 283 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (2 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571193609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571193608
  • Product Dimensions: 127.8 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 182,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

Biologists have long been aware that sex poses different problems for male and female animals. Males typically compete for sexual access to females, and females are typically choosier. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. In the vast majority of animal species, males fight among themselves to mate with females, and females choose from the victors.

In the past few decades, biologists have realised that male competition and female choice rarely stop at the moment of copulation. Unless the species is completely monogamous, females may sometimes mate with more than one male during the same fertile period. Whenever this happens, the competition between males may continue after copulation, via a process known as sperm competition. Sperm from one male encounter sperm from another male inside the female's reproductive tract, and they do battle, continuing the competition that their originators engaged in prior to copulation. Similarly, the female continues to exercise her power of choice by selecting from the rival sperm she finds inside her.

Incredible as this may seem, the phenomena of sperm competition and sperm choice, as they are called, have now been well documented in dozens of species. In a new book for Faber and Faber, Tim Birkhead gives an accessible and comprehensive overview of this research. Birkhead is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Sheffield, and has spent many years researching the reproductive behaviour of birds, but his book covers many other kinds of animals too. From shrimp and water bugs to hamsters and hyenas, Birkhead takes the reader on a guided tour of infidelity and its consequences. Promiscuity is perhaps misleading as a title, as it suggests that females are being less choosy in mating with multiple males, when it is often precisely the opposite. The main lesson of the book is that multiple mating by females is often a way of being more discriminating, because it allows the female to compare the quality of rival sperm directly.

This is a fascinating and well-written introduction to one of the most interesting areas of research in contemporary biology.--Dylan Evans


Contrary to beliefs, females are remarkably promiscuous and have evolved an array of tricks to determine who exactly will be the father of their offspring. This text introduces the world of sexual competition, where males and females vie with each other to maximize their reproductive success.

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3 October 2000
Format: Paperback
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26 July 2000
Format: Paperback
4 August 2000
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