Promiscuity: An Evolutionary History of Sperm Competition

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Males are promiscuous and ferociously competitive; females are naturally monogamous." Only in recent years has this version of events been challenged. Females, it has become clear, are remarkably promiscuous and utilize an astonishing array of strategies before and after copulation to determine exactly who will father their offspring. As Tim Birkhead reveals, both males and females have evolved surprising and sophisticated ways to maximize their own reproductive success -- often at the expense of one another. ...
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Cambridge 2000 Hard Cover First Edition New in New jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. FIRST PRINTING of the First Edition. A readable discussion of the biological mainsprings of ... reproduction, how sperm 'compete' and achieve success or failure in replicating the species, drawn from both human and non-human studies and accounts. Hardcover with dust jacket, contains illustrations, references, bibliography, appendix, indexed, 272pp. A new, unused copy, the jacket neatly encased in an acid-free archival plastic protector. Rare. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Males are promiscuous and ferociously competitive; females are naturally monogamous." Only in recent years has this version of events been challenged. Females, it has become clear, are remarkably promiscuous and utilize an astonishing array of strategies before and after copulation to determine exactly who will father their offspring. As Tim Birkhead reveals, both males and females have evolved surprising and sophisticated ways to maximize their own reproductive success -- often at the expense of one another. Lucidly written and lavishly illustrated, with a wealth of fascinating detail and vivid examples, Promiscuity is the ultimate guide to the battle of the sexes.
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Editorial Reviews

A. H. Harcourt
[Darwin] didn't expand on...promiscuity in females...but Tim Birkhead more than makes up for Darwin's omission. Promiscuity is a fascinating, wide-ranging, erudite, readable journey through some of the weirder stretches of biology.
Nature
Paul Raeburn
[A] fascinating story of a revolution in evolutionary biology. Until recently, biologists and cigar-toting males who haunt singles bars would have agreed that the reproductive act is what it's about. That may still be the case for singles-bar louts, but biologists now know the Darwinian struggle to reproduce does not end with copulation. "Generations of reproductive biologists assumed females to be sexually monogamous," Birkhead writes, but recently they've found that in many species of insects, birds and reptiles, females are highly promiscuous...These new findings demolish the idea that reproduction is a warm, romantic collaboration. "This is real sexual conflict: the battle of the sexes," Birkhead says,; males and females are out to get "the best, selfish genetic deal they can get." The battle of the sexes is an old story, but the idea that it continues after copulation, in the microscopic arena of sperm and eggs, is distinctly new...As the battle of the sexes continues, Birkhead's provocative book is a reminder of how little we know.
New York Times Book Review
Paul Raeburn
. . . a fascinating story of a revolution in evolutionary biology . . . These new findings demolish the idea that reproduction is a warm, romantic collaboration. . . . provocative . . .
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When mammals have sex, many sperm race to fertilize one egg. Does chance alone decide which sperm succeeds? What happens when sperm from different males chase the same egg or eggs? How are things different for the male and female gametes of squid, poultry, starfish or sharks? And how might female organisms benefit from choosing more than one mate? Such questions are the province of biologists who study sperm competition, an intriguing, sometimes bizarre field that draws on evolutionary theory, biochemistry and old-fashioned animal watching. Birkhead (Great Auk Islands), professor of behavioral ecology at Britain's University of Sheffield, has written an engrossing, accessible explanation of sperm competition and related elements of animal biology. Birkhead succeeds on two levels at once. He sets out evolutionists' nuanced arguments about sperm competition and sexual selection, and shows how their hypotheses have been tested. He also offers a fantastic array of biological believe-it-or-nots. The fish called capelin in effect mate in threes; two males at once assist the female capelin in pushing spawn out of her body. Male giant squid shoot long needlelike spermatophores from a penis nearly three feet long; the spermatophores stick in the female's skin, and no one knows how the sperm reach the eggs from there. Nobody's sure why such systems evolve: studies of house mice, Australian fairy wrens and Panamanian pseudoscorpions, though, might help explain them. Birkhead's work is solid and intriguing, a clear picture of many out-there phenomena: no one who cares for biology should miss it. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Metapsychology

Darwin's evolutionary theory, as originally presented, taught the importance of, and the powerful results of, the processes of sexual selection. However, according to...Birkhead, Darwin's attention stopped short at mate selection. This current work takes the study of sexual selection to yet another level...[Promiscuity is] quite readable and engaging...Birkhead is an excellent, clear writer and this approach allows even non-biologists to learn much about his subject. Certainly, the book will stimulate the reader to consider the meaning of male-female relationships in a new light.
— Keith S. Harris

Nature

[Darwin] didn't expand on...promiscuity in females...but Tim Birkhead more than makes up for Darwin's omission. Promiscuity is a fascinating, wide-ranging, erudite, readable journey through some of the weirder stretches of biology.
— A. H. Harcourt

New York Times Book Review

[A] fascinating story of a revolution in evolutionary biology. Until recently, biologists and cigar-toting males who haunt singles bars would have agreed that the reproductive act is what it's about. That may still be the case for singles-bar louts, but biologists now know the Darwinian struggle to reproduce does not end with copulation. "Generations of reproductive biologists assumed females to be sexually monogamous," Birkhead writes, but recently they've found that in many species of insects, birds and reptiles, females are highly promiscuous...These new findings demolish the idea that reproduction is a warm, romantic collaboration. "This is real sexual conflict: the battle of the sexes," Birkhead says,; males and females are out to get "the best, selfish genetic deal they can get." The battle of the sexes is an old story, but the idea that it continues after copulation, in the microscopic arena of sperm and eggs, is distinctly new...As the battle of the sexes continues, Birkhead's provocative book is a reminder of how little we know.
— Paul Raeburn

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674004450
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 5.79 (w) x 8.51 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Birkhead is Professor of Behavioral Ecology at the University of Sheffield.

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Table of Contents

List of Plates vii
Preface ix
1 Competition, Choice and Sexual Conflict 1
2 Paternity and Protection 33
3 Genitalia 58
4 Sperm, Ejaculates and Ova 106
5 Copulation, Insemination and Fertilization 136
6 Mechanisms of Sperm Competition and Sperm Choice 164
7 The Benefits of Polyandry 195
References 235
Bibliography 245
Appendix Species mentioned in the text 263
Index 265
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