Estimating adult sex ratios in nature

Sergio Ancona, Francisco V. Dénes, Oliver Krüger, Tamás Székely, Steven R. Beissinger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Citations (SciVal)


Adult sex ratio (ASR, the proportion of males in the adult population) is a central concept in population and evolutionary biology, and is also emerging as a major factor influencing mate choice, pair bonding and parental cooperation in both human and non-human societies. However, estimating ASR is fraught with difficulties stemming from the effects of spatial and temporal variation in the numbers of males and females, and detection/capture probabilities that differ between the sexes. Here, we critically evaluate methods for estimating ASR in wild animal populations, reviewing how recent statistical advances can be applied to handle some of these challenges. We review methods that directly account for detection differences between the sexes using counts of unmarked individuals (observed, trapped or killed) and counts of marked individuals using mark–recapture models. We review a third class of methods that do not directly sample the number of males and females, but instead estimate the sex ratio indirectly using relationships that emerge from demographic measures, such as survival, age structure, reproduction and assumed dynamics. We recommend that detection-based methods be used for estimating ASR in most situations, and point out that studies are needed that compare different ASR estimation methods and control for sex differences in dispersal. This article is part of the themed issue ‘Adult sex ratios and reproductive decisions: a critical re-examination of sex differences in human and animal societies’.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160313
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1729
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2017


  • Adult sex ratio
  • Bias
  • Mark–recapture
  • Two-sex matrix models
  • Unmarked populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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