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Group size and social status affect scent marking in dispersing female meerkats


Morales-González, Ana; Ruíz-Villar, Héctor; Ozgul, Arpat; Maag, Nino; Cozzi, Gabriele (2019). Group size and social status affect scent marking in dispersing female meerkats. Behavioral Ecology, 30(6):1602-1610.

Abstract

Many animal species use scent marks such as feces, urine, and glandular secretions to find mates, advertise their reproductive status, and defend an exclusive territory. Scent marking may be particularly important during dispersal, when individuals emigrate from their natal territory searching for mates and a new territory to settle and reproduce. In this study, we investigated the scent-marking behavior of 30 dispersing female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) during the three consecutive stages of dispersal—emigration, transience, and settlement. We expected marking patterns to differ between dispersal stages, depending on social circumstances such as presence of unrelated mates and social status of the individuals within each dispersing coalition and also to be influenced by water and food availability. We showed that defecation probability increased with group size during the settlement stage, when newly formed groups are expected to signal their presence to other resident groups. Urination probability was higher in subordinate than in dominant individuals during each of the three dispersal stages and it decreased overall as the dispersal process progressed. Urine may, thus, be linked to advertisement of the social status within a coalition. Anal marking probability did not change across dispersal stages but increased with the presence of unrelated males and was higher in dominants than in subordinates. We did not detect any effect of rain or foraging success on defecation and urination probability. Our results suggest that feces, urine, and anal markings serve different communication purposes (e.g., within and between-group communication) during the dispersal process.

Abstract

Many animal species use scent marks such as feces, urine, and glandular secretions to find mates, advertise their reproductive status, and defend an exclusive territory. Scent marking may be particularly important during dispersal, when individuals emigrate from their natal territory searching for mates and a new territory to settle and reproduce. In this study, we investigated the scent-marking behavior of 30 dispersing female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) during the three consecutive stages of dispersal—emigration, transience, and settlement. We expected marking patterns to differ between dispersal stages, depending on social circumstances such as presence of unrelated mates and social status of the individuals within each dispersing coalition and also to be influenced by water and food availability. We showed that defecation probability increased with group size during the settlement stage, when newly formed groups are expected to signal their presence to other resident groups. Urination probability was higher in subordinate than in dominant individuals during each of the three dispersal stages and it decreased overall as the dispersal process progressed. Urine may, thus, be linked to advertisement of the social status within a coalition. Anal marking probability did not change across dispersal stages but increased with the presence of unrelated males and was higher in dominants than in subordinates. We did not detect any effect of rain or foraging success on defecation and urination probability. Our results suggest that feces, urine, and anal markings serve different communication purposes (e.g., within and between-group communication) during the dispersal process.

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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)
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Life Sciences > Animal Science and Zoology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Animal Science and Zoology, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Language:English
Date:8 November 2019
Deposited On:16 Jan 2020 08:30
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 12:39
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1045-2249
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arz124
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant IDCR32I3_159743
  • : Project TitleEco-evolutionary mechanisms and demographic consequences of dispersal in socially structured populations
  • : FunderFP7
  • : Grant ID294494
  • : Project TitleTHCB2011 - The evolution and development of cooperation in mammalian societies
  • : FunderH2020
  • : Grant ID742808
  • : Project TitleGroup-Dynamics-TCB - Effects of group dynamics on selection, development and demography in cooperative vertebrates

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