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Attractive Females Dominate the Social Circle: Bonobo Study

Jul 16, 2013 04:56 AM EDT

(Photo : REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly )

A new study conducted on Bonobos, one of our closest cousins, has shown that sexually attractive females win conflict with males more easily than their not-so- endowed peers.

The bonobo (Pan paniscus) the closest relative to humans and is known for intelligence, emotional expression and sensitivity.

Bonobos have fission-fusion social groups- where they form temporary parties within a larger community. Subgroups of these fission-fusion groups can vary from one to twenty individuals with a flexible male: female ratio. Other researchers were aware of the fact that in Bonobo community, sex is more than just a way of reproduction and serves as a way of forming party affiliations and dominance.

Previous research on the group dynamics of the Bonobos community was based on the assumption that in a female-led group, other females form coalitions to support her status. Another theory was that the female-dominated groups have less aggressive males that don't challenge the female authority.

However, the new study shows that an attractive female wouldn't need any support from group members and that the other males behave less aggressively towards her, making it easier for her to win a conflict.

The study was conducted by the researchers working on the LuiKotale bonobo project from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and was based on the Bonobos from Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Two traits that helped a female achieve dominant position were sexual attractiveness and motivation to protect an offspring. Males were more likely to lose against a female when she was defending her offspring or when she was displaying high levels of fertility.

"In those situations, males also aggress females less often, which is different from chimpanzees, our other closest living relatives," said Dr. Martin Surbeck, first author of the study, according to a news release.

The study Intersexual dominance relationships and the influence of leverage on the outcome of conflicts in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

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