Meerkat close calling patterns are linked to sex, social category, season and wind, but not fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations

Jelena Mausbach, Ines Braga Goncalves, Michael Heistermann, Andre Ganswindt, Marta Manser

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

334 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

It is well established that animal vocalizations can encode information regarding a sender's identity, sex, age, body size, social rank and group membership. However, the association between physiological parameters, particularly stress hormone levels, and vocal behavior is still not well understood. The cooperatively breeding African meerkats (Suricata suricatta) live in family groups with despotic social hierarchies. During foraging, individuals emit close calls that help maintain group cohesion. These contact calls are acoustically distinctive and variable in rate across individuals, yet, information on which factors influence close calling behavior is missing. The aim of this study was to identify proximate factors that influence variation in call rate and acoustic structure of meerkat close calls. Specifically, we investigated whether close calling behavior is associated with sex, age and rank, or stress hormone output (i.e., measured as fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations) as individual traits of the caller, as well as with environmental conditions (weather) and reproductive seasonality. To disentangle the effects of these factors on vocal behavior, we analyzed sound recordings and assessed fGCM concentrations in 64 wild but habituated meerkats from 9 groups during the reproductive and non-reproductive seasons. Dominant females and one-year old males called at significantly higher rates compared to other social categories during the reproductive season. Additionally, dominant females produced close calls with the lowest mean fundamental frequencies (F0) and the longest mean pulse durations. Windy conditions were associated with significantly higher call rates during the nonreproductive season. Fecal GCM concentrations were unrelated to close calling behavior. Our findings suggest that meerkat close calling behavior conveys information regarding the sex and social category of the caller, but shows no association with fGCM concentrations. The change in call rate in response to variation in the social and ecological environments individuals experience indicates some degree of flexibility in vocal production.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0175371
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2017

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Meerkat close calling patterns are linked to sex, social category, season and wind, but not fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this