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Keywords:

  • Cuckoldry;
  • ESS;
  • extra-pair paternity;
  • paternal care;
  • polygamy;
  • runaway evolution;
  • social monogamy;
  • sperm competition;
  • tragedy of the commons

In socially monogamous species, females may engage in extra-pair fertilizations to gain direct or indirect benefits not provided by the social mate, with the potential risk of a reduction in the social mate’s paternal effort. I present an ESS model of cuckoldry frequencies, which considers both facultative and nonfacultative male responses to losses in paternity. Two possible equilibria exist: stable social monogamy with varying degrees of extra-pair paternity, and polygamy with little or no male care. Monogamy with limited cuckoldry can be stable only if the initial cuckoldry frequency is low, intrinsic cuckoldry benefits are not high, males can reasonably accurately detect cuckoldry, and female compensation for losses in male care is incomplete. Deviations from these assumptions lead to stronger mate acquisition in males at the expense of paternal care, and eventually to runaway evolution towards polygamy. Average female fitness is reduced in the runaway, although it is initiated by females maximizing the survival of offspring – a potential “tragedy of the commons” in breeding systems.