• mate availability;
  • mating system;
  • monogamy;
  • probability modelling;
  • Trichosurus cunninghami


The formal testing of mating system theories with empirical data is important for evaluating the relative importance of different processes in shaping mating systems in wild populations. Here, we present a generally applicable probability modelling framework to test the role of local mate availability in determining a population’s level of genetic monogamy. We provide a significance test for detecting departures in observed mating patterns from model expectations based on mate availability alone, allowing the presence and direction of behavioural effects to be inferred. The assessment of mate availability can be flexible and in this study it was based on population density, sex ratio and spatial arrangement. This approach provides a useful tool for (1) isolating the effect of mate availability in variable mating systems and (2) in combination with genetic parentage analyses, gaining insights into the nature of mating behaviours in elusive species. To illustrate this modelling approach, we have applied it to investigate the variable mating system of the mountain brushtail possum (Trichosurus cunninghami) and compared the model expectations with the outcomes of genetic parentage analysis over an 18-year study. The observed level of monogamy was higher than predicted under the model. Thus, behavioural traits, such as mate guarding or selective mate choice, may increase the population level of monogamy. We show that combining genetic parentage data with probability modelling can facilitate an improved understanding of the complex interactions between behavioural adaptations and demographic dynamics in driving mating system variation.