Reproductive delays in mammals: An unexplored avenue for post-copulatory sexual selection

Teri J. Orr, Marlene Zuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Numerous mammalian taxa exhibit reproductive delays, pauses in reproduction that occur between mating and fertilization, between fertilization and implantation of the embryo, or after an embryo has implanted. Of the 27 mammalian orders, 9 are known to exhibit reproductive delays, including Diptrotodontia, Dasyuromorphia, Eulipotyphyta, Cingulata, Carnivora, Rodentia, Chiroptera, Lagomorpha and Cetartiodactyla. Most researchers interested in delays have focused on their evolutionary origins. However, the consequences of these delays have not been considered fully. Given the lengthening of the period over which reproduction occurs, it is possible that this unique aspect of reproduction facilitates post-copulatory sexual selection. When considered in the context of sexual selection, delays may allow sperm competition and female manipulation of fertilization (cryptic female choice) as well as other post-copulatory processes. We investigate the potential for reproductive delays to facilitate post-copulatory sexual selection and suggest avenues for research that may further our knowledge of sexual selection. We also provide a general review of reproductive delays in mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-912
Number of pages24
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Authors. Biological Reviews © 2014 Cambridge Philosophical Society.


  • Carnivora
  • Chiroptera, cryptic female choice
  • Delayed fertilization
  • Delayed implantation
  • Embryonic diapause
  • Mammalia
  • Post-copulatory sexual selection
  • Reproductive delays
  • Sperm competition


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