Meerkat call patterns are linked to sex, social status and reproductive season

May 3, 2017, Public Library of Science
The waveform (top) and spectrogram (middle) of a close call. Credit: Mausbach et al (2017)

Within a group of meerkats, call patterns vary with factors including sex, rank and reproductive season—but not with stress hormones, according to a study published May 3, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jelena Mausbach from University of Zurich, Switzerland; Marta Manser from University of Pretoria, South Africa; and colleagues.

Meerkats live in family groups with , emitting contact calls that help maintain group cohesion during foraging. These calls are distinctive and have variable rates across individuals, but the influences on this behavior are unknown. To identify factors linked to call patterns, Mausbach, Manser and colleagues analyzed sound recordings and measured fecal stress hormones of 64 meerkats from 9 groups in the wild.

The researchers found that call patterns vary with factors such as sex, social status, and reproductive season, suggesting that calls within a family group provide listeners with cues about the producers.

For example, call rates were higher in dominant females and one-year-old males than in other individuals, and were up to five times more frequent during the reproductive season than during the non-reproductive season.

However, call patterns were not linked to , and the researchers speculate that this may reflect the fact that the calls studied were emitted during the relaxed context of foraging.

Explore further: Captive meerkats at risk of stress

More information: Mausbach J, Braga Goncalves I, Heistermann M, Ganswindt A, Manser MB (2017) Meerkat close calling patterns are linked to sex, social category, season and wind, but not fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0175371. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175371

Related Stories

Captive meerkats at risk of stress

April 18, 2017

Small groups of meerkats—such as those commonly seen in zoos and safari parks—are at greater risk of chronic stress, new research suggests.

Meerkats have ability to distinguish different voices

October 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Vocal recognition is widespread in primates but a new study, published in Biology Letters, provides evidence that it may not be limited to humans and primates. The ability to recognize the voice of another ...

Dominant meerkats render rivals infertile

August 8, 2006

When pregnant, dominant female meerkats subject their subordinates to escalating aggression and temporary eviction causing them to become overly stressed and as a result infertile, a new study finds.

Female meerkats compete to outgrow their sisters

May 25, 2016

Meerkats live in groups of up to 50 individuals, yet a single dominant pair will almost completely monopolise reproduction, while subordinates help to raise offspring through feeding and babysitting. Since only a small minority ...

Recommended for you

Great Welsh science helps solve pollinator puzzle

April 18, 2018

Welsh scientists piecing together the giant jigsaw puzzle of plant pollination are a step closer to knowing how it all fits thanks to a new paper by Swansea University PhD researcher Andrew Lucas.

Sharp claws helped ancient seals conquer the oceans

April 18, 2018

If you've ever seen seals frolicking in the water, you know they are agile swimmers, with perfectly adapted paddle-like limbs. But if you think those flippers are just for swimming, then think again.

New Zealand's large moa did not disperse large seeds

April 18, 2018

A new study about New Zealand's extinct moa, involving acid baths and concrete mixers, by researchers from the University of Canterbury and Landcare Research, has revealed a surprising finding about their ability to disperse ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.