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Fear of sex: sexual conflict exposed as avoidance in a parthenogenetic invertebrate
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology  (IF2.98),  Pub Date : 2021-07-29, DOI: 10.1007/s00265-021-03054-9
Lee, Marcus, Solano Udina, Carlota, Hansson, Lars-Anders


Males and females often have divergent evolutionary interests, generating sexual conflicts. This is particularly true in organisms that exhibit facultative sexuality, whereby females are capable of reproducing without fitness costs of mating. Here, we provide the first documented evidence with quantitative tracking showing that sex interacts with social context to determine space-use of females, in a pattern resembling predator avoidance. To achieve this, we labelled Daphnia magna with fluorescent nanoparticles and utilized a 3-D tracking platform to record pairs of individuals swimming. The recordings comprised either same-sex or opposite-sex pairings. We found that females swam faster, deeper, more horizontally, and more linearly when exposed to males than when exposed to females. Simultaneously, we found that male behavior did not differ depending on swimming partner and, importantly, we observed no sexual dimorphism in swimming behaviors when swimming with the same sex. Our results suggest that the presence of males in a population has the potential to influence the distribution of individuals, similarly to known threats, such as predation. This highlights that sexual conflict has clear spatial consequences and should be considered in such ecological frameworks, like the Landscape of Fear (LOF) concept. In a broader context, the connection of the evolutionary and social concept of sexual conflict and the ecological concept of LOF may improve our understanding of population dynamics and the spatial and temporal distribution of individuals in natural ecosystems.

Significance statement

Despite the wealth of studies that detail how predators affect their prey’s spatial behaviors, studies on the role of sex and social context on spatial behavior are rare. Addressing this dearth of information, we studied the swimming behaviors of an organism that can reproduce with or without sex, when exposed to an individual of either the same or opposite sex. We found no difference between the sexes in swimming behaviors; however, we revealed that females avoided males by swimming deeper in the water column, reminiscent of the response to predation. Our results highlight that social conflict between the sexes strongly affects the demographics of a population and may therefore have a substantial role in the spatial ecology of organisms in the wild.