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Dispersal, eviction, and conflict in meerkats (Suricata suricatta): An evolutionarily stable strategy model

By P.A. Stephens, A.F. Russell, A.J. Young, W.J. Sutherland and T.H. Clutton-Brock

Abstract

Decisions regarding immigration and emigration are crucial to understanding group dynamics in social animals, but dispersal is rarely treated in models of optimal behavior. We developed a model of evolutionarily stable dispersal and eviction strategies for a cooperative mammal, the meerkat Suricata suricatta. Using rank and group size as state variables, we determined state-specific probabilities that subordinate females would disperse and contrasted these with probabilities of eviction by the dominant female, based on the long-term fitness consequences of these behaviors but incorporating the potential for error. We examined whether long-term fitness considerations explain group size regulation in meerkats; whether long-term fitness considerations can lead to conflict between dominant and subordinate female group members; and under what circumstances those conflicts were likely to lead to stability, dispersal, or eviction. Our results indicated that long-term fitness considerations can explain group size regulation in meerkats. Group size distributions expected from predicted dispersal and eviction strategies matched empirical distributions most closely when emigrant survival was approximately that determined from the field study. Long-term fitness considerations may lead to conflicts between dominant and subordinate female meerkats, and eviction is the most likely result of these conflicts. Our model is computationally intensive but provides a general framework for incorporating future changes in the size of multimember cooperative breeding groups

Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Year: 2005
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:1386

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