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Female bonobos 'advertise' homosexual bonds to boost their status

London , Fri, 02 Mar 2012 ANI

London, March 2 (ANI): Bonobos are referred to as the "erotic" or "promiscuous apes" because they regularly engage in sexual contact with both their own and the opposite sex.


Now, researchers studying communication among the apes have revealed that female bonobos "advertise" their homosexual activity to important audiences to strengthen their social position.


They found that females made the most noise during sex if the "alpha female" was nearby.


Low-ranking females that were invited to have sex with high-ranking females would also call to tell other group members about the bond.


Experts suggest females communicate the encounters to boost their status, the BBC reported.


"[Sex] is used to reduce stress and competition, develop affiliations, express and test social relationships and for reconciling conflicts and consoling victims in distress," explained Dr Zanna Clay, from Emory University in Atlanta, who has been studying vocalisations in the species for five years.


In order to understand more about communication among the apes, Dr Clay led an international team of researchers to observe a group at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.


Building on earlier work, their findings published in the journal Scientific Reports identified a pattern in the calls made by females during homosexual encounters.


"Using vocalisations, females only advertise sexual contacts with important group members. It's all about climbing up the social ladder for female bonobos," said Dr Clay.


The team found that calls were most likely to be made by lower-ranking females, particularly if they were "picked" by a higher-ranking female.


The females also appeared to consider their audience - calling more if the most important group member, the alpha female, was present.


"Bonobos appear to be highly aware of the dynamics governing their social worlds," said Dr Clay.


She suggested that the females have adopted the calls, usually associated with reproduction, as a strategic tool.


"As a low-ranked female, advertising [a] social-sexual bonding with another dominant group member may serve to strengthen their social position, and signal this to the alpha," she added.


Unlike their close relatives, the chimpanzees, bonobo societies are not male-dominated. Dr Clay suggested that this might be due to the strong relationships between females.


"In bonobos, sexual interactions represent a powerful means to enable females to develop and maintain social relationships, and it is these bonds which lie at the heart of their raised status in bonobo society," she added. (ANI)



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