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Adult meerkats modify close call rate in the presence of pups


Wyman, Megan T; Rivers, Pearl R; Muller, Coline; Toni, Pauline; Manser, Marta B (2017). Adult meerkats modify close call rate in the presence of pups. Current Zoology, 63(3):349-355.

Abstract

In animals, signaling behavior is often context-dependent, with variation in the probability of emitting certain signals dependent on fitness advantages. Senders may adjust signaling rate depending on receiver identity, presence of audiences, or noise masking the signal, all of which can affect the benefits and costs of signal production. In the cooperative breeding meerkat Suricata suricatta, group members emit soft contact calls, termed as “close calls”, while foraging in order to maintain group cohesion. Here, we investigated how the close calling rate during foraging was affected by the presence of pups, that produce continuous, noisy begging calls as they follow older group members. Adults decreased their overall close call rate substantially when pups were foraging with the group in comparison to periods when no pups were present. We suggest this decrease was likely due to a masking effect of the loud begging calls, which makes the close call function of maintaining group cohesion partly redundant as the centrally located begging calls can be used instead to maintain cohesion. There was some support that adults use close calls strategically to attract specific pups based on fitness advantages, that is, as the philopatric sex, females should call more than males and more to female pups than male pups. Dominant females called more than dominant males when a pup was in close proximity, while subordinates showed no sex-based differences. The sex of the nearest pup did not affect the calling rate of adults. The study shows that meerkats modify their close call production depending on benefits gained from calling and provides an example of the flexible use of one calling system in the presence of another, here contact calls versus begging calls, within the same species.

Abstract

In animals, signaling behavior is often context-dependent, with variation in the probability of emitting certain signals dependent on fitness advantages. Senders may adjust signaling rate depending on receiver identity, presence of audiences, or noise masking the signal, all of which can affect the benefits and costs of signal production. In the cooperative breeding meerkat Suricata suricatta, group members emit soft contact calls, termed as “close calls”, while foraging in order to maintain group cohesion. Here, we investigated how the close calling rate during foraging was affected by the presence of pups, that produce continuous, noisy begging calls as they follow older group members. Adults decreased their overall close call rate substantially when pups were foraging with the group in comparison to periods when no pups were present. We suggest this decrease was likely due to a masking effect of the loud begging calls, which makes the close call function of maintaining group cohesion partly redundant as the centrally located begging calls can be used instead to maintain cohesion. There was some support that adults use close calls strategically to attract specific pups based on fitness advantages, that is, as the philopatric sex, females should call more than males and more to female pups than male pups. Dominant females called more than dominant males when a pup was in close proximity, while subordinates showed no sex-based differences. The sex of the nearest pup did not affect the calling rate of adults. The study shows that meerkats modify their close call production depending on benefits gained from calling and provides an example of the flexible use of one calling system in the presence of another, here contact calls versus begging calls, within the same species.

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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:2017
Deposited On:19 Jan 2018 08:17
Last Modified:18 Apr 2018 11:49
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1674-5507
Funders:UZH
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/cz/zox029

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