The extent to which sexual harassment from males can damage relationships between females is revealed in a study published today (Wednesday 22 April). Led by the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research uncovers the effect of sexual harassment on the ability of female fish to form social bonds with each other.
The study focused on guppies, a popular aquarium fish, in which scientists have previously observed a very high level of sexual harassment from males towards females. The researchers found that male harassment not only breaks down female social structures but also affects females' ability to recognise one another.
The research provides the first insight into the effect of male sexual harassment on female social networks and social recognition. The findings could have relevance to other species.
Lead author Dr Safi Darden of the University of Exeter explains "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. They carried out a number of experiments on each group to test the females' ability to recognise their peers and form bonds with other members of the group.
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.
Co-author Dr Darren Croft of the University of Exeter said "This is an extremely interesting result as it appears
|Contact: Sarah Hoyle|
University of Exeter