Call of duty? Variation in use of the watchman's song by sentinel dwarf mongooses, Helogale parvula

Julie M Kern, Andy N Radford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Social information is invaluable in assessing the need for antipredator behaviour. Individuals can acquire such information by observing the behaviour of others, but reliance on visual cues may be undermined by visual obstructions and social monitoring is often incompatible with foraging. Vocal communication does not require the close proximity of senders and receivers or the suspension of other activities, and there is increasing evidence that foragers can use vocalizations to inform decisions about their own vigilance. However, less work has focused on what factors influence signallers in this context. We used detailed behavioural observations and a playback experiment manipulating perceived risk to investigate the calling behaviour of dwarf mongoose sentinels. Sentinels vocalized more often in dense habitats and when foragers were further away, when visual cues were less likely to be useful. Sentinels also vocalized more in situations most advantageous to others, including when groupmates were likely to be distracted (e.g. when babysitting or foraging) and following an alarm call; sentinels may provide an 'all clear' signal. Call rate was reduced in high-risk situations, such as immediately after an alarm call. Individuals of different age, sex and dominance status varied in their likelihood of calling and their response to situations of similar risk, probably because of different cost-benefit trade-offs for separate classes. Our study offers strong evidence that dwarf mongoose sentinels are adjusting their vocal behaviour both to enhance the likelihood that groupmates are aware of their presence and to provide potentially valuable social information about current risk. (c) 2013 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-975
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • dwarf mongoose
  • Helogale parvula
  • risk sensitivity
  • sentinel behaviour
  • social information
  • vocal communication
  • watchman's song
  • COST


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