Low historical rates of cuckoldry in a Western European human population traced by Y-chromosome and genealogical data

M. H. D. Larmuseau, J. Vanoverbeke, A. Van Geystelen, G. Defraene, N. Vanderheyden, K. Matthys, T. Wenseleers, R. Decorte

Abstract

Recent evidence suggests that seeking out extra-pair paternity (EPP) can be a viable alternative reproductive strategy for both males and females in many pair-bonded species, including humans. Accurate data on EPP rates in humans, however, are scant and mostly restricted to extant populations. Here, we provide the first large-scale, unbiased genetic study of historical EPP rates in a Western European human population based on combining Y-chromosomal data to infer genetic patrilineages with genealogical and surname data, which reflect known historical presumed paternity. Using two independent methods, we estimate that over the last few centuries, EPP rates in Flanders (Belgium) were only around 1–2% per generation. This figure is substantially lower than the 8–30% per generation reported in some behavioural studies on historical EPP rates, but comparable with the rates reported by other genetic studies of contemporary Western European populations. These results suggest that human EPP rates have not changed substantially during the last 400 years in Flanders and imply that legal genealogies rarely differ from the biological ones. This result has significant implications for a diverse set of fields, including human population genetics, historical demography, forensic science and human sociobiology.

  • Received September 17, 2013.
  • Accepted September 30, 2013.
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