When we talk about mating systems in behavioural ecology we are not referring to different types of sexual and asexual reproduction, which are described in earlier chapters as modes of reproduction; instead, we are interested in the social constructs that surround reproduction, such as the formation of pair bonds. Over the past 20 years a tremendous number of studies have used molecular data to quantify some of the fitness costs and benefits associated with different types of mating behaviour, and these have collectively provided a number of surprising results. A direct consequence of this work is that we now differentiate between social mating systems, which are inferred from observations of how individuals interact with one another, and genetic mating systems, which reflect the biological relationships between parents and offspring. Molecular genetic data have played an important role in helping us to understand the extent to which social and genetic mating systems can differ from one another.
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