Sexual harassment prevents female bonding, says study

April 22nd, 2009 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 22 (IANS) Sexual harassment prevents female bonding among fish, says a study. The findings are important as they could be relevant to other species as well.
The study by Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, University of Exeter, focused on guppies, a popular aquarium fish, in which scientists have previously observed a very high level of sexual harassment from males towards females.

Researchers found that male harassment not only breaks down female social structures but also affects females’ ability to recognise one another.

The research provides insight into the effect of male sexual harassment on female social networks and social recognition. The findings could have relevance to other species.

Study co-author Safi Darden of Exeter explained “sexual harassment is a burden that females of many species ranging from insects to primates suffer and the results of our work suggest that this harassment may limit the opportunities for females to form social bonds across a range of species”

The research team worked with a population of wild guppies in Trinidad, isolating the females and introducing males to change the sex ratio and examining the effect of males on female social behaviour.

The study showed that, after experiencing a high level of sexual harassment, females were less able to recognise the other females in the group. They were also more likely to form bonds with new females, introduced from outside their network, said an Exeter release.

Study co-author Darren Croft said: “This is an extremely interesting result as it appears that females that experience sexual harassment actually prefer to avoid other females with whom they associate the negative experience.”

Darden added: “The health and well-being of an individual is dependent, in part, on having strong social bonds with others. Females that have weakened social bonds may be less likely to survive in the wild.”

These findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday.

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