, Volume 65, Issue 12, pp 2197-2208

Same-sex pair-bonds are equivalent to male–female bonds in a life-long socially monogamous songbird

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Abstract

Same-sex sexual behaviors are well documented in both captive and wild animals. In monogamous species, these behaviors are often exclusive, each individual having only one same-sex partner. A bias in sex ratio has been proposed as a social context yielding same-sex pair-bonding, but this hypothesis has rarely been tested. Focusing on a life-long pair-bonding songbird, the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata, we tested whether same-sex pairing results from a shortage of individuals of the opposite sex. By experimentally skewing the sex ratio towards members of one sex, we observed a greater proportion of same-sex pair-bonds of that sex. Moreover, we assessed whether the quality and stability of social interactions were equivalent in same-sex and male–female pairs. Male–male and female–female same-sex bonds display the same behavioral characteristics as male–female ones: they are intense, highly selective, and stable affinitive relationships involving the same behavioral displays already described in wild birds. Moreover, same-sex male bonds were sufficiently strong not to split up when individuals were given the opportunity to reproduce with females. Because the pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a partnership that may give advantages for survival (e.g., resources defense, fighting against predators, etc.), we propose that same-sex pairing in the zebra finch may result from the pressure to find a social partner.

Communicated by I. Hartley