Title page for ETD etd-06092009-185917

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Flower, Thomas Patrick
URN etd-06092009-185917
Document Title Competition for food in meerkats (Suricata suricatta)
Degree MSc
Department Zoology and Entomology
Advisor Name Title
Prof E Z Cameron Supervisor
  • meerkats
  • Suricata suricatta
  • group living species
Date 2009-04-15
Availability unrestricted
In group living species animals commonly compete for limited resources such as food (Darwin 1859). Winning competition for food may be beneficial for an individuals survival or reproductive success (Williams 1966; Clutton-Brock 1988; Metcalfe et al 1995) but conflict with group members may be costly as it typically involves aggression (Huntingford & Turner 1987, Mesterton-Gibbons & Adams 1998). Asymmetries between individuals are predicted to determine the outcome of competition (Maynard-Smith & Parker 1976), and individuals are expected to steal food when the benefit to them is greatest (Barnard 1984; Trivers 1972). I therefore investigate what determines the outcome of competition for food between group members, and what factors affect whether group members try to steal food in the cooperatively breeding meerkat (Suricatta suricatta).

Meerkats competed for food items infrequently and the owner of a food item typically won competition, but dominant individuals and breeding females were more likely to win competition than other group members. This provides support for models of conflict over resources in group living species which predict that ownership may determine the outcome of competition, thereby avoiding frequent costly conflict (Maynard-Smith 1982). Furthermore, where large asymmetries exist between contestants in dominance status or the value of a resource, these may determine the outcome of competition (Maynard-Smith & Parker 1976; Grafen 1987).

Meerkats varied in how frequently they tried to steal food depending upon the costs and benefits of competition. Dominant individuals competed for food more frequently which is likely to reflect reduced costs of competition as subordinate individuals may avoid conflict with them (Packer & Pusey 1985). Females competed for food more frequently than males and more frequently during breeding, reflecting the higher costs of reproduction to females compared to males (Williams 1966; Trivers 1972). Meerkats compete more frequently for food when food availability is low, which indicates that food items may be more valuable when they are rare. Meerkats in smaller groups competed more frequently. In cooperatively breeding species group members undertake a large number of costly helping behaviours. Individuals in small groups each contribute more effort to helping than individuals in large groups and suffer higher costs which may increase the benefit of food to them (Clutton-Brock et al 1998a; Clutton-Brock et al 2001a).

Competition for the opportunity to breed in cooperatively breeding meerkats has resulted in despotic dominance hierarchies where a dominant female monopolises breeding and reproductively suppresses subordinates (Clutton-Brock et al 2001b). Dominant females stole more food than any other group members. This is likely to be a consequence of the high costs of reproduction for the dominant breeding female in species with high reproductive skew (Creel & Creel 1991; Clutton-Brock et al 2001b). Furthermore, dominant females were more aggressive and more successful in competition for food with their reproductive competitors. Dominant females may therefore use competition for food as a means of asserting dominance over their reproductive competitors which could contribute to reproductive suppression (Creel et al 1992; Williams 2004; Kutsukake & Clutton-Brock 2006b; Young et al 2006).

2007 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Flower, TP 2007, Competition for food in meerkats (Suricata suricatta), MSc dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-06092009-185917/ >


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