Cooperative personalities and social niche specialization in female meerkats

A. J. Carter*, S. English, T. H. Clutton-Brock

*Corresponding author for this work

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

45 Citations (Scopus)


The social niche specialization hypothesis predicts that group-living animals should specialize in particular social roles to avoid social conflict, resulting in alternative life-history strategies for different roles. Social niche specialization, coupled with role-specific life-history trade-offs, should thus generate between-individual differences in behaviour that persist through time, or distinct personalities, as individuals specialize in particular nonoverlapping social roles. We tested for support for the social niche specialization hypothesis in cooperative personality traits in wild female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) that compete for access to dominant social roles. As cooperation is costly and dominance is acquired by heavier females, we predicted that females that ultimately acquired dominant roles would show noncooperative personality types early in life and before and after role acquisition. Although we found large individual differences in repeatable cooperative behaviours, there was no indication that individuals that ultimately acquired dominance differed from unsuccessful individuals in their cooperative behaviour. Early-life behaviour did not predict social role acquisition later in life, nor was cooperative behaviour before and after role acquisition correlated in the same individuals. We suggest that female meerkats do not show social niche specialization resulting in cooperative personalities, but that they exhibit an adaptive response in personality at role acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-825
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Animal personality
  • Cooperation
  • Life history
  • Social niche specialization
  • Suricata suricatta


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