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Meerkat close calls encode group-specific signatures, but receivers fail to discriminate


Townsend, S W; Hollén, L I; Manser, M B (2010). Meerkat close calls encode group-specific signatures, but receivers fail to discriminate. Animal Behaviour, 80(1):133-138.

Abstract

A great deal of variation is known to underlie the vocalisations of animals. Calls can for example vary among individuals or between social and behavioural contexts. Calls also have the potential to vary between groups. Many group living animals are known to produce stereotyped group-specific calls and such group signatures are thought to play a role in territory defence or indeed mate choice. Group signatures are generally found in long-distance call variants that work to maintain contact between group members, sometimes referred to as “contact calls”. Cooperatively breeding, territorial meerkats (Suricata suricatta) also use contact calls, potentially to maintain social organization during foraging. However, these contact calls are generally quieter, than long distance calls in other species, and better described as “close calls”. We investigated whether these similar call types also possess group-specific signatures and whether any such variation is used by receivers. We recorded close calls from 71 individuals belonging to 10 different meerkat groups. We found that such close calls do indeed possess group signatures, but that this underlying variation does not appear to be used by receivers, possibly because meerkats use other sensory systems to identify non-group members. We stress the importance of conducting playback experiments when investigating group-specific vocal signatures and use our results as a basis for predicting which animals may rely on group information encoded within close calls.

Abstract

A great deal of variation is known to underlie the vocalisations of animals. Calls can for example vary among individuals or between social and behavioural contexts. Calls also have the potential to vary between groups. Many group living animals are known to produce stereotyped group-specific calls and such group signatures are thought to play a role in territory defence or indeed mate choice. Group signatures are generally found in long-distance call variants that work to maintain contact between group members, sometimes referred to as “contact calls”. Cooperatively breeding, territorial meerkats (Suricata suricatta) also use contact calls, potentially to maintain social organization during foraging. However, these contact calls are generally quieter, than long distance calls in other species, and better described as “close calls”. We investigated whether these similar call types also possess group-specific signatures and whether any such variation is used by receivers. We recorded close calls from 71 individuals belonging to 10 different meerkat groups. We found that such close calls do indeed possess group signatures, but that this underlying variation does not appear to be used by receivers, possibly because meerkats use other sensory systems to identify non-group members. We stress the importance of conducting playback experiments when investigating group-specific vocal signatures and use our results as a basis for predicting which animals may rely on group information encoded within close calls.

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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)
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:08 Feb 2011 14:11
Last Modified:26 Jan 2017 08:48
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0003-3472
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.04.010

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