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The irrelevance of individual discrimination in meerkat alarm calls


Schibler, F; Manser, M B (2007). The irrelevance of individual discrimination in meerkat alarm calls. Animal Behaviour, 74(5):1259-1268.

Abstract

ndividual discrimination is an important element in the evolution of social behaviour and is particularly important in social living species which show intense intragroup interactions. Numerous previous studies, particularly with nonhuman primates, ground squirrels and marmots, demonstrate the widespread ability of various species to signal and perceive individual identity from vocalisations. The function of individually different alarm calls is thought to assist in the detection of unreliable individuals. This would allow individuals to optimize the benefits of antipredator behaviour by self-assessing the relative predation risk, and responding selectively to reliable callers. In this study we investigated whether meerkats, Suricata suricatta, a social mongoose, discriminated among alarm callers individually, and adjust their response accordingly. Several parameters of the acoustic structure of meerkat alarm calls were measured and analysed with multivariate statistics. Within groups, the 10-fold cross-validation of a multinomial regression yielded, on average, 90% of correct assignment. This strongly suggests that meerkats have individually distinct alarm calls. With a habituation-dishabituation playback experiment, we then tested whether meerkats use this information to discriminate between individual callers. Receivers did not distinguish between different individuals in the playback experiments. In the meerkats, unreliable callers appear not to be common, and the cost of being predated might exceed the costs of responding to an unreliable caller, thus rendering a reliability-based discrimination mechanism unnecessary. Although meerkat alarm calls contain information on individual identity, this information does not appear to be important to the receivers in this context.

ndividual discrimination is an important element in the evolution of social behaviour and is particularly important in social living species which show intense intragroup interactions. Numerous previous studies, particularly with nonhuman primates, ground squirrels and marmots, demonstrate the widespread ability of various species to signal and perceive individual identity from vocalisations. The function of individually different alarm calls is thought to assist in the detection of unreliable individuals. This would allow individuals to optimize the benefits of antipredator behaviour by self-assessing the relative predation risk, and responding selectively to reliable callers. In this study we investigated whether meerkats, Suricata suricatta, a social mongoose, discriminated among alarm callers individually, and adjust their response accordingly. Several parameters of the acoustic structure of meerkat alarm calls were measured and analysed with multivariate statistics. Within groups, the 10-fold cross-validation of a multinomial regression yielded, on average, 90% of correct assignment. This strongly suggests that meerkats have individually distinct alarm calls. With a habituation-dishabituation playback experiment, we then tested whether meerkats use this information to discriminate between individual callers. Receivers did not distinguish between different individuals in the playback experiments. In the meerkats, unreliable callers appear not to be common, and the cost of being predated might exceed the costs of responding to an unreliable caller, thus rendering a reliability-based discrimination mechanism unnecessary. Although meerkat alarm calls contain information on individual identity, this information does not appear to be important to the receivers in this context.

Citations

37 citations in Web of Science®
38 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:alarm call, acoustic structure, habituation-dishabituation playback, individual discrimination, meerkat, reliability, Suricata suricatta
Language:English
Date:13 November 2007
Deposited On:11 Feb 2008 12:14
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:13
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0003-3472
Publisher DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.02.026

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