Harem (zoology)

Large male northern fur seal and harem of smaller females

A harem is an animal group consisting of one or two males, a number of females, and their offspring. The dominant male drives off other males and maintains the unity of the group. If present, the second male is subservient to the dominant male. As juvenile males grow, they leave the group and roam as solitary individuals or join bachelor herds. Females in the group may be inter-related. The dominant male mates with the females as they become sexually active and drives off competitors, until he is displaced by another male. In some species, incoming males that achieve dominant status may commit infanticide.

For the male, the primary benefit of the harem system is obtaining exclusive access to a group of mature females. The females benefit from being in a stable social group and the associated benefits of grooming, predator avoidance and cooperative defense of territory. The disadvantages for the male are the energetic costs of gaining or defending a harem which may leave him with reduced reproductive success. The females are disadvantaged if their offspring are killed during dominance battles or by incoming males.

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