Signals of need in a cooperatively breeding mammal with mobile offspring

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

*Corresponding author for this work

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

25 Citations (Scopus)


In many bird species with biparental care for young in the nest, hungry chicks beg repeatedly and parents adjust their feeding rate to the call rate of young. Repetitive calling also occurs in fledglings and in some mammals where offspring follow provisioners. It is not yet clear whether, in mobile systems with dispersed young where adults cannot compare the vocal behaviour of all young simultaneously, the calls represent a signal of need. We investigated repetitive begging by cooperatively reared meerkat, Suricata suricatta, pups that foraged with the group. Pups produced two types of begging calls: repeat calls over long periods and high-pitched calls mainly confined to feeding events. Food-deprived pups stayed closer to feeders, and begged for longer and more intensely by calling at a higher rate. Hungry pups increased both the rate of repeat calls, which were given continually, and the number of high-pitched bouts, but adults increased their food allocation only in relation to the rate of repeat calls. Our study indicates that hunger may lead to several changes in vocal behaviour, only some of which may be used by adults to assess need.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1805-1813
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • begging
  • call rate
  • cooperative breeder
  • meerkat
  • mobile begging system
  • signal of need
  • Suricata suricatta


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