Males, especially in species where they provide little or no parental investment, usually have high potential reproductive rates and are expected to maximize their fitness by mating with several females. This view is challenged, however, by species in which males provide no parental investment, but nevertheless mate with one female only. Male monogamy (monogyny), associated with an extreme investment in paternity protection, appears to be comparatively common in web-building spiders, and has recently been subject to experimental and theoretical studies. To date, however, studies approaching this issue from an ecological perspective are rare. Theory predicts that the evolution of a monogynous mating strategy is favoured by a male-biased sex ratio, but not necessarily by a high mortality risk for mate-searching males. To test these predictions, we conducted a field study on the golden orb spider Nephila fenestrata, which has a mating system with potentially cannibalistic, polyandrous females, and males that are often functionally sterile after mating with one female only. Based on daily observations of marked individuals, we confirm that, consistent with laboratory findings, monogyny is common in N. fenestrata. Nevertheless, observations of male movements between females raise the possibility that a proportion of males may mate with two females. We show that the sex ratio in our study population is male-biased, and that males incur only a relatively moderate mortality risk during mate-search. These findings provide insights into the ecological basis for the evolutionary maintenance of monogyny.