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Flexible alarm calling in meerkats: the role of the social environment and predation urgency


Townsend, Simon; Rasmussen, Maria; Clutton-Brock, Tim; Manser, Marta (2012). Flexible alarm calling in meerkats: the role of the social environment and predation urgency. Behavioral Ecology, 23(6):1360-1364.

Abstract

Flexible vocal production has been demonstrated in several vertebrate species with much work focusing on the role of the social “audience” in explaining variation in call production. It is, however, likely that the decision to call is an emergent property of both external and internal factors and the extent to which these factors are integrated has been little investigated. We addressed this question by examining the production of alarm calls in wild male meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in different social environments and different predator-encounter contexts. Males searching for reproductive opportunities (rovers), were followed: (i) in their home group and when prospecting, either (ii) solitarily, or (iii) in a coalition with other males. Results showed conspecific presence influenced the production of flee-alarm and recruitment calls. Solitary rovers were less likely to produce flee-alarm calls compared to when with conspecifics, whether coalitionary rovers or the rover’s home group. Experimentally elicited recruitment calls were also produced less when males were solitary than when in their home group. Bark vocalisations, emitted when meerkats were safe were always produced, irrespective of conspecific presence, indicating these calls function to address predators. The probability of producing flee-alarms also increased with urgency of the predation event. Our results indicate that variation in alarm call production depends on whom the call is addressed to, and also the motivational state of the caller. We argue that neglecting to integrate internal and external factors when elucidating mechanisms underlying vocal production can potentially lead to misguided, parsimonious conclusions regarding vocal flexibility in animals.

Abstract

Flexible vocal production has been demonstrated in several vertebrate species with much work focusing on the role of the social “audience” in explaining variation in call production. It is, however, likely that the decision to call is an emergent property of both external and internal factors and the extent to which these factors are integrated has been little investigated. We addressed this question by examining the production of alarm calls in wild male meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in different social environments and different predator-encounter contexts. Males searching for reproductive opportunities (rovers), were followed: (i) in their home group and when prospecting, either (ii) solitarily, or (iii) in a coalition with other males. Results showed conspecific presence influenced the production of flee-alarm and recruitment calls. Solitary rovers were less likely to produce flee-alarm calls compared to when with conspecifics, whether coalitionary rovers or the rover’s home group. Experimentally elicited recruitment calls were also produced less when males were solitary than when in their home group. Bark vocalisations, emitted when meerkats were safe were always produced, irrespective of conspecific presence, indicating these calls function to address predators. The probability of producing flee-alarms also increased with urgency of the predation event. Our results indicate that variation in alarm call production depends on whom the call is addressed to, and also the motivational state of the caller. We argue that neglecting to integrate internal and external factors when elucidating mechanisms underlying vocal production can potentially lead to misguided, parsimonious conclusions regarding vocal flexibility in animals.

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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:2012
Deposited On:13 Feb 2013 15:30
Last Modified:17 Feb 2018 00:55
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1045-2249
Additional Information:This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Behavioral Ecology following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Townsend, Simon; Rasmussen, Maria; Clutton-Brock, Tim; Manser, Marta (2012). Flexible alarm calling in meerkats: the role of the social environment and predation urgency. Behavioral Ecology, 23(6):1360-1364 is available online at: http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/6/1360.abstract.
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/ars129

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