Calling in the gap: Competition or cooperation in littermates' begging behaviour?

Joah R. Madden, Hansjoerg P. Kunc, Sinead English, Marta B. Manser, Tim H. Clutton-Brock

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

25 Citations (Scopus)


Offspring are frequently raised alongside their siblings and are provisioned early in life by adults. Adult provisioning is stimulated by offspring begging, but it is unclear how each offspring should beg, given the begging behaviour of their siblings. It has previously been suggested that siblings may compete directly through begging for a fixed level of provisioning, or that siblings may cooperate in their begging in order to jointly elevate the level of provisioning by adults. We studied the begging behaviour of meerkat Suricata suricatta pups, explored how it changed as the begging behaviour of their littermates altered, and asked how the adults responded to group-level changes in begging.We found conflicting evidence for classic models of competitive and cooperative begging. Pups reared in larger litters begged at higher rates, yet experimentally increasing begging levels within groups caused individual begging rates to decrease. Pups decreased begging rates when close to other begging pups, and pups spaced further apart were fed more. Adults increased their overall level of provisioning as group levels of begging increased, but per capita provisioning decreased. Adults preferred to provision speakers playing back recordings of two pups begging alternately to recordings of the same two pups begging simultaneously. Therefore, we suggest that meerkat pups avoid some of the costs of direct competition imposed by an escalation of begging as other pups beg, by begging in gaps between the bouts of others or avoiding littermates. Such behaviour is also preferred by provisioning adults, thus providing additional benefits to the pups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1255-1262
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1660
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2009


  • Begging
  • Cooperation
  • Coordination
  • Indirect competition
  • Meerkats


Dive into the research topics of 'Calling in the gap: Competition or cooperation in littermates' begging behaviour?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this