Take owl monkeys, tiny tropical tree-dwellers that treat every day like it's Valentine's Day. A male and a female stick together as long as possible, never cheat, and never "divorce" their mates—extremely unusual behavior, even among people.

Sometimes, though, young adult owl monkeys that can't find mates—monkeys that scientists call floaters—pick vicious fights with established pairs, eventually kicking one of them out.

Now, new research shows that the monkeys forced to take on new partners have fewer babies than owl monkeys that haven't been broken up, said Eduardo Fernandez-Duque, a biological anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who led a new study on owl monkey relationships.

The results show how monogamy helps owl monkeys—and may even shed light on how human relationships evolved.

"Call it love, call it friendship, call it marriage—there is something in our biology that leads to this enduring, emotional bond between two individuals that is widespread among human societies," Fernandez-Duque said in a statement.

Trouble in Paradise

Only about 5 percent of mammals are monogamous, and the phenomenon most often arises when both parents are needed to raise offspring, as in the case of people.

With owl monkeys, fathers take on most of the childcare after a baby is born, relying on the mother only for milk.

But floaters—which Fernandez-Duque and colleagues first noticed in 2003 inArgentina's Chaco region (map)—can spell trouble in paradise.

Drawing on nearly two decades of observations of 18 owl monkey groups, the team discovered that pairs that stay intact produce 25 percent more babies than monkeys in severed pairs.

The exiled animal from those broken relationships, meanwhile, is usually injured and often dies.