Female guppies risk death to avoid sexual harassment
6 August 2008
Sexual harassment from male guppies is so bad that long-suffering females will risk their lives to escape it, according to new research from Dr Safi Darden and Dr Darren Croft from Bangor University. Their work, which was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is published today in the Royal Society's Biology Letters.
Dr Croft catching the guppies in a Trinidad river.
Male guppies spend most of their time displaying their brightly-coloured bodies to females in the hope of attracting a mate. The choosy females will usually only mate with the most attractive, high-quality males to ensure the production of strong offspring. If his courtship display is rejected, the male will often attempt to sneak a mating with his chosen female when she is not looking. Avoiding the relentless male harassment uses up precious resources such as time and energy. This in turn reduces the time available for food foraging, and energy for growth and reproduction.
The researchers studied guppy behaviour in a Trinidad river and found that the females are segregating the sexes by choosing to spend time in areas where there are high numbers of predators. The brightly-coloured males are far more likely to attract the predators than the dull brown females, so they keep their distance.
Dr Croft explains, "Much like humans, female guppies produce relatively few eggs and give birth to live offspring. They don't lay their eggs for a seasonal spawning but keep them inside their bodies where they are fertilised by the males. Because they are not reliant on seasons, the females have a continuous battle to keep the males at bay - so they are resorting to extreme measures to avoid unwelcome attention."
A female guppy is harassed by two males.
Dr Darren Croft
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1. 'Male harassment drives females to alter habitat use and leads to segregation of the sexes' by Dr Safi Darden and Dr Darren Croft is published in the August issue of Biology Letters . It can be viewed online from 6 August 2008 at the Royal Society website.
2. Images of male guppies harassing a female and of Dr Croft collecting fish from a river in Trinidad are available on request from either Dr Croft or the NERC press office.
3. The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400m a year from the government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.
4. Bangor University was founded in 1884 and is today a world-class, research–led university, dedicated to academic excellence. It provides teaching and learning of the highest quality, and contributes to the development of the economy, health and culture of a sustainable Wales and a sustainable world. The University has more than 9000 students, 26 academic schools and over 2000 staff.
Press release: 42/08
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