Sex differences in responsiveness to begging in a cooperative mammal

Sinead English*, Hansjoerg P. Kunc, Joah R. Madden, Tim H. Clutton-Brock

*Corresponding author for this work

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

19 Citations (Scopus)


In species where young are provisioned by both parents, males commonly contribute less to parental care than females, and are less responsive to variation in begging rates. Similar differences in the care of young occur among adults in cooperative breeders, but fewer studies have investigated whether these are associated with differences in responsiveness. Here, we present results from a playback experiment investigating responsiveness to begging in the meerkat (Suricata suricatta), a cooperatively breeding mammal. Although increased begging rate raised the feeding rate of adults of both sexes, there was no consistent tendency for females to be more responsive than males. However, when we examined changes in the proportion of food items found that were fed to pups (generosity), we found that females were more responsive than males to increased begging rate. These results can be explained in terms of sex differences in dispersal: in meerkats, females are philopatric and receive considerable benefits from investing in young, both directly, by increasing group size, and indirectly, by recruiting helpers if they inherit the breeding position. In addition, they emphasize that generosity provides a more sensitive measure of responsiveness to begging than feeding rate, as it accounts for variation in foraging success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-337
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2008


  • Begging
  • Feeding rate
  • Meerkat
  • Parental care
  • Signalling


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