Homosexuality: nature or nurture? Scientist Young and colleagues have found mated pairs of female Laysan albatross in Oahu Hawaii. Same-sex pairs engaged in mutual preening and protecting their mates, often remaining together for long periods of time. For instance, a female couple on a nearby island has been together for 19 years.
This indicates that homosexuality does occur in wild populations of animals, as well as within human populations. This creates ripples in the conventional debates on homosexuality. Is it correct to claim that homosexuality is unnatural if it is occurring in nature? Groups have long debated whether sexual preference is biological or is influenced by environment, and the repercussions this may have for homosexual law and culture in today’s society. In the gay marriage legalization debate, the media used the same sex bonded pairs of albatross (Zuk and Bailey, 658).
Sexual interaction between individuals of the same sex has been noted in populations of dolphins, sheep and monkeys. But first, it is essential to define what constitutes homosexual behavior. The female-female pairs of albatross were not seen to engage in sexual activities. However, this does not mean that a quick roll in the nest did not occur. This makes one wonder whether relationships between same-sex pairs, without copulation, still class as homosexuality.
Lack of the male species may have caused the same sex pairing among the albatross population. The preference of commitment over multiple partners then allows this same-sex behavior to persist over time. If a female pairs with another female, one or both may reproduce with a male, thereby increasing their chance of reproductive success in a pair rather than alone. This is known as co-operative breeding, where non-related adults help rear the young. However, this lacks the normal reproductive competition often seen between members of the same-sex. This form of co-operative reproductive challenges the ideas of the evolution of sexual reproductive strategies and orientation. Despite a possible increase in reproductive success in same-sex pairing than alone, these females are still in a dilemma. This is because the reproductive success of female-female pairs was less than that of female-male pairings.
Homosexuality in nature may have previously been over-looked. Female and male Laysan albatross are not physically distinguishable. This is a commonality in many seabird species. Consequently, scientists had to determine gender through genetic tests (Zuk and Bailey, 659). This is thoroughly resource consuming considering genetic technology is only beginning to emerging commercially. As a result, female-female pairing may have been previously mistaken for female-male pairing. More intricate and thorough search of homosexuality in nature, which makes use of new and emerging technologies in genetics, may lead to further findings of homosexuality behavior.
Note that homosexuality in wild populations seems to occur to a much lesser degree as compared to those in captivity. This leads scientists to question the purpose of same-sex interaction in terms of the evolution of a species. However, in captivity, there were other different-sex pairing alternatives available.
The proportion of female-female pairing to different-sex pairing in the Oahu albatross population is higher than recordings for any other bird species. Female-female pairing occurred at 31% of the 125 Laysan albatross nests observed. Further study into the population of albatross inhabiting the island of Oahu may provide answers to questions that this initial study poses.
The biological differences between the brain activity of gay and straight human beings has also been studied, the continuation of which is now supported by the findings of this study by Young and colleagues. These findings initiate further study and discussion into the nature of homosexuality and population ecology, and the implications this research may have for future debates on the place of homosexuality in human society.
Zuk, Marlene and Bailey, Nathan. “Birds Gone Wild: Same sex parenting in albatross.” The Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23.12 (2008): 658-660.