Research highlight

Animal behaviour: Sisters are doing it for the social benefits

Scientific Reports

March 2, 2012

The patterns that shape sexual interactions among female bonobos and the role of vocalizations in this process are described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The study suggests that these calls, which share the same acoustic structure as those made during reproduction, have become ritualized and may also serve as broader social signals that can boost female bonding. Bonobo females frequently form close bonds, which give them social power over other group members, and one potential mechanism to facilitate female bonding is the performance of sexual interactions. Using naturalistic observations and experiments, Zanna Clay and Klaus Zuberbuhler studied the patterns that determine female-female interactions in three bonobo groups from the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Females with a low social status tended to interact with females of all ranks, whereas interactions between high-ranked females were rare, the authors found. During sexual contacts, female bonobos sometimes produced copulation calls, which were significantly affected by the rank of the caller and her partner. Low-ranking females were most likely to call when interacting with high-ranking females, especially if they were invited to have sex by this higher-ranking partner. They were also more likely to advertise their sexual interactions, by calling, when the alpha female was listening in the audience. The results highlight one way in which animal communication behaviour may have been influenced by social relations.

doi: 10.1038/srep00291

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