Variation in alloparental care in dwarf mongooses

  • Emily M Grout

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science (MSc)


Alloparental care (the provision of care to offspring by adults other than the parents) is widespread in social vertebrates. However, there is much unexplained variation in the contributions of different group members to these helping activities. Dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula) live in groups of 5 to 30 individuals, consisting of a dominant breeding pair and subordinate adult helpers of both sexes. All adults contribute to feeding, grooming and group-sleeping with the young. I used detailed observations from seven wild but habituated dwarf mongoose groups to examine whether sex, dominance status and age influence variation in alloparental care. I found that subordinates, especially younger individuals, fed pups more frequently than dominants, but dominants brought larger prey items than subordinates. Subordinate females groomed pups more frequently than dominant females, but there was no difference in grooming frequency between dominant and subordinate males. Additionally, subordinates groomed pups for longer durations than dominants. I found no evidence that male or female helpers preferentially feed or groom pups of a particular sex. Furthermore, there was no significant difference between helpers in group-sleeping bouts. To test whether adults preferentially feed certain pups, a playback experiment using pup begging calls was designed, and pilot trials conducted. Preliminary results indicated that neither sex nor age of subordinate group members influenced their mean response latency to respond to different begging tracks, but a full experiment would be needed for strong conclusions. In summary, I found that there is variation between group members in their level of investment in different alloparental tasks. Therefore, future studies on variation in alloparental behaviour should consider multiple caring activities exhibited by group members to obtain a broader understanding of the factors involved, and to extend our understanding of cooperation, parental care and social living.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAndrew N Radford (Supervisor) & Innes C Cuthill (Supervisor)

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