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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jul 3;280(1765):20131013. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1013. Print 2013 Aug 22.

Social monitoring via close calls in meerkats.

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  • 1Department of Animal Behaviour, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

Social monitoring of the actions of group members is thought to be a key development associated with group living. Humans constantly monitor the behaviour of others and respond to them in a flexible way depending on past interactions and the current social context. While other primates have also been reported to change their behaviour towards other group members flexibly based on the current state of their relationship, empirical evidence is typically linked to contextually specific events such as aggressive or reproductive interactions. In the cooperatively breeding meerkat (Suricata suricatta), we investigated whether subordinate females use frequently emitted, non-agonistic close calls to monitor the location of the dominant female and whether they subsequently adjust their response based on recent social interactions during conflict and non-conflict periods. Subjects discriminated between the close calls of the dominant female and control playbacks, responding by approaching the loudspeaker and displaying submissive behaviour only if they were currently threatened by eviction. Our results suggest that meerkats assess the risk for aggressive interactions with close associates depending on social circumstances, and respond accordingly. We argue that social monitoring based on non-agonistic cues is probably a common mechanism in group-living species that allows the adjustment of behaviour depending on variation in relationships.

KEYWORDS:

close call; flexible response; group-living; meerkat; social context; social monitoring

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