Timing of predispersal prospecting is influenced by environmental, social and state-dependent factors in meerkats

R. Mares*, A. W. Bateman, S. English, T. H. Clutton-Brock, A. J. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

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

31 Citations (Scopus)


Extraterritorial prospecting forays are an important route to fitness in many species, allowing the assessment of dispersal opportunities and often extragroup mating prior to dispersal. However, few studies have examined the factors affecting individual variation in prospecting effort and the extent to which individuals time their forays so as to maximize the benefits and mitigate the costs of prospecting. We used 11 years of prospecting data from a wild population of cooperatively breeding meerkats, Suricata suricatta, to investigate how subordinate males modulate their prospecting effort according to their social and physical environment and internal state. Prospecting effort showed strong seasonal variation, in which peak prospecting broadly coincided with the breeding season. When we controlled for this seasonal variation, we found that males were more likely to prospect when there were larger numbers of females evicted from foreign groups (with whom prospecting males found new groups) and on days when they encountered another social group (to which they could then prospect at minimal cost). Males were also more likely to prospect when older, in stronger body condition and in years of higher rainfall (when greater food availability may reduce prospecting costs and improve the chance of encountering fertile females). Finally, although travelling in larger coalitions can mitigate the costs of prospecting, males with more potential coalition partners were less likely to prospect. Together, our results indicate that individual investment in predispersal prospecting forays is influenced by social, environmental and state-dependent factors that may shape the benefits and mitigate the costs of extraterritorial prospecting. Our findings suggest that males rely more on extragroup than within-group social cues when timing their forays, and provide new insights into the likely drivers of spatiotemporal patterns of dispersal and extragroup mating in social species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-193
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


  • Cooperative breeding
  • Informed dispersal
  • Meerkat
  • Predispersal behaviour
  • Prospecting
  • Subordinate reproduction
  • Suricata suricatta


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