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Suppressing subordinate reproduction provides benefits to dominants in cooperative societies of meerkats

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  • M. B. V. Bell
  • M. A. Cant
  • C. Borgeaud
  • N. Thavarajah
  • J. Samson
  • T. H. Clutton-brock

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    Rights statement: his work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/ncomms5499
Original languageEnglish
Article number4499
JournalNature Communications
Volume5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Abstract

In many animal societies, a small proportion of dominant females monopolize reproduction by actively suppressing subordinates. Theory assumes that this is because subordinate reproduction depresses the fitness of dominants, yet the effect of subordinate reproduction on dominant behaviour and reproductive success has never been directly assessed. Here, we describe the consequences of experimentally preventing subordinate breeding in 12 groups of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) for three breeding attempts, using contraceptive injections. When subordinates are prevented from breeding, dominants are less aggressive towards subordinates and evict them less often, leading to a higher ratio of helpers to dependent pups, and increased provisioning of the dominant’s pups by subordinate females. When subordinate breeding is suppressed, dominants also show improved foraging efficiency, gain more weight during pregnancy and produce heavier pups, which grow faster. These results confirm the benefits of suppression to dominants, and help explain the evolution of singular breeding in vertebrate societies.

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