MICO TATALOVIC MSC
Variation in height and contribution to sentinel behaviour in meerkats
Tel: 01223 336673
There seem to be consistent sex differences in the contribution to sentinel behaviour in meerkats (Clutton-Brock et al. 2002). Sex differences in contribution to cooperative behaviours such as sentinel duty may have a hormonal basis. It was shown recently that decisions to babysit in meerkats were associated with elevated prolactin and decreased cortisol levels (Carlson et al. 2006a) whereas long term contributions to pup-feeding were associated with cortisol levels (Carlson et al. 2006b). These results support the idea that cooperation in cooperative vertebrates may have hormonal basis and also that different hormones may affect different cooperative behaviours (Carlson et al. 2006a). No one has yet looked at the hormonal influences on sentinel behaviour in meerkats and how this fits in with what we are starting to understand about hormonal influences on social behaviour of animals and also humans.
Clutton-Brock et al. (1999) found that meerkats in the habitat with fewer predators guarded less than meerkats in the habitat with more predators. Clutton-Brock et al. (2002) suggest that males may be gaining more by guarding if this allows them to locate potential mates in other groups. Although different individuals guard at different rates and alarm calls contain information about individual identity, meerkats do not seem to use this information to discriminate between reliable and unreliable sentinels (Professor Manser, personal communication). This may mean that sentinels who guard for their own purposes, such as gaining information about mates, would not suffer the costs of being found unreliable by the rest of the group even if the selfish function conflicted with the predator detection function. Similar situation happens in trade-offs between prospecting and helping behaviours of male meerkats (Young et al. 2004).
The main aims of my project are:
1) To understand the factors that influence individual differences in contribution to sentinel behaviour and to see how this fits in with the contributions to other cooperative behaviours.
2) To identify the hormonal correlates of both sex differences and the individual differences in sentinel behaviour in meerkats.
3) To look at the function of the sentinel behaviour in meerkats and identify potential functions other than guarding against predators.
In order to achieve the aims set above I will perform analyses of data collected during the past ten years and also construct my own observations and experimental manipulations in the field. I will collect faecal and blood samples at the Kalahari Meerkat Project, which I will then analyse to try and understand better the endocrinology of guarding behaviour in meerkats. I am interested in effects of testosterone, cortisol, prolactin, oxytocin and vasopressin on guarding behaviour and how these hormones affect guarding behaviour versus other helping behaviours. I am also interested in looking at behavioural correlates of guarding in terms of behavioural syndromes and animal personalities.
Carlson A. A. et al. (2006a) Elevated prolactin levels immediately precede decisions to babysit by male meerkat helpers. Hormones and Behaviour 50 94-100.
Carlson A. A. et al. (2006b) Cortisol levels are positively associated with the pup-feeding rates in male meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society of
Clutton-Brock, T.H., O’Riain, M.J., Brotherton, P.N.M., Gaynor, D. & Kansky, R. 1999 Selfish sentinels in cooperative mammals. Science 284:1640-1644.
Clutton-Brock, T.H., Brotherton, P.N.M., O’Riain, M.J., Griffin, A.S., Gaynor, D., Kansky, R., Sharpe, L. & McIlrath, G.M. (2001) Contributions to cooperative rearing in meerkats, Suricata suricatta. Animal Behaviour 61: 705-710.
Clutton-Brock, T.H., Russell, A.F., Sharpe, L.L., Young, A.J., Balmforth, Z. and McIlrath, G.M. (2002) Evolution and development of sex differences in cooperative behavior in meerkats. Science 297: 253-256.
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