On the accurate description of social and genetic mating systems

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Of late, there has been a lot of discussion on the use of preprint servers (here, here, here), and the pros and potential cons of posting manuscripts pre-acceptance. For me, the pros are obvious, the dissemination of research as widely and freely as possible. Cons, well, having ideas or research stolen. I guess we all know (14th hand) stories of this happening, but really, I think it’s pretty low risk. For this paper, I’ve been talking about if for years, and its in review as an invited review at Behavioral Ecology. For someone to take it, resubmit somewhere, and beat me in publishing it would be pretty brazen.  I’d like to think that my fellow scientist are more honest than that.

Anyway, where to submit.  For the more quantitative parts of biology, arXiv seems to be the most logical choice. For papers that are less quantitative, as of today, there is no really good solution. Apparently, PeerJ will have a preprint server, but that will not be available until [some-damn-day]. So for me, this paper will live its preprint days on my personal website, and will be advertised via Twitter, etc.

So without further adieu, here is the abstract, the link to full text, and some details about the writing process below.

Mating systems are critical determinants of the intensity of sexual selection and sexual conflict, but understanding how variation in reproductive behavior influences these phenomena requires consistent, accurate descriptions of the array of mating arrangements observed in nature. As understanding of animal mating systems has evolved, behavioral ecologists have shifted from using behavioral information to an increasing reliance on genetic data to characterize patterns of reproductive behavior and reproductive success. Although genetic data are critical for an accurate accounting of parentage and reproductive success, they exclude critical information regarding the nature of behavioral relationships among reproductive partners, thereby potentially confounding fundamentally different types of mating systems. I contend that the ability to identify common evolutionary trends and their underlying selective pressures is significantly enhanced by using a conceptual framework that differentiates explicitly between social and genetic mating systems. Furthermore, inclusion of both types of information can reveal new and intriguing relationships between behavior and fitness that further our understanding of how selection shapes mating systems. Here, I offer behavioral ecologists a new terminological framework for the study of mating systems that allows us to more appropriately merge genetic with behavioral data in an attempt to improve our understanding of this critical aspect of animal behavior. Lastly, I suggest a potential way in which we can begin to fully embrace the complexity of animal mating systems, in part via the adoption of a more quantitative index of behavioral and genetic data.

This manuscript was born as Chapter 1 of my dissertation.  It as the product of years of cogitating about one serious issue with behavioral ecology today. I tried writing it many many times, and could not finish. In large part, this was because I was trying to develop a fully quantitative system for the classification of mating systems that integrated social and genetic.. I imagined some graph where one axis represented social behavior (for instance a quantitative measure of pair bond) and the other axis was a measure of reproductive success, or skew.. Maybe an index like Arnold and Wade’s I sub(s).

Anyway, the paper ended up being more a reminder that if we are going to use these terms, use them appropriately. I know Insect behaviorists have long used the word polyandry inappropriately, and they will be the hardest to sell.  I do believe that getting everybody to sue terms in the same way has a lot of value, and thats ultimately why I wrote the paper.

I’d love to get feedback, so if you like it, say so, hate it, I want to hear that, too!