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Am Nat. 2007 Oct;170(4):617-24. Epub 2007 Aug 28.

Begging signals in a mobile feeding system: the evolution of different call types.

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Animal Behaviour, Zoological Institute, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


In some species, dependent offspring join foraging providers and beg for food. Mobile offspring might benefit from evolving begging signals adapted to the different situations they are exposed to, but this possibility has been ignored. In cooperatively breeding meerkats (Suricata suricatta), dependent offspring use a repertoire of several begging calls when joining foraging adults. We found that these calls can be differentiated on the basis of their acoustic structure and that pups adjusted the use of specific call types according to the social context. Pups continuously gave "repeat" calls when they accompanied foraging adults, and playback of these calls increased provisioning by the adults. When pups saw adults with food, they switched from repeat calls to vigorous "high-pitched" calls; adults also preferred to "feed" loudspeakers broadcasting high-pitched calls rather then loudspeakers broadcasting repeat calls. The elaboration of different begging calls might reflect an adaptation to a situation where dependent young must solicit food from potential feeders while at the same time directing feeders to bring the prey item to themselves and not to another begging pup. Here we show that mobile but dependent offspring adapt to different contexts in a mobile feeding system by using a repertoire of begging calls.

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