Letter | Published:

Competitive growth in a cooperative mammal

Nature volume 533, pages 532534 (26 May 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

In many animal societies where hierarchies govern access to reproduction, the social rank of individuals is related to their age and weight1,2,3,4,5 and slow-growing animals may lose their place in breeding queues to younger ‘challengers’ that grow faster5,6. The threat of being displaced might be expected to favour the evolution of competitive growth strategies, where individuals increase their own rate of growth in response to increases in the growth of potential rivals. Although growth rates have been shown to vary in relation to changes in the social environment in several vertebrates including fish2,3,7 and mammals8, it is not yet known whether individuals increase their growth rates in response to increases in the growth of particular reproductive rivals. Here we show that, in wild Kalahari meerkats (Suricata suricatta), subordinates of both sexes respond to experimentally induced increases in the growth of same-sex rivals by raising their own growth rate and food intake. In addition, when individuals acquire dominant status, they show a secondary period of accelerated growth whose magnitude increases if the difference between their own weight and that of the heaviest subordinate of the same sex in their group is small. Our results show that individuals adjust their growth to the size of their closest competitor and raise the possibility that similar plastic responses to the risk of competition may occur in other social mammals, including domestic animals and primates.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog: Social Life of a Burrowing Mammal (Univ. Chicago Press, 1995)

  2. 2.

    Social hierarchies: size and growth modification in clownfish. Nature 424, 145–146 (2003)

  3. 3.

    , & Strategic growth decisions in helper cichlids. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 271, S505– S508 (2004)

  4. 4.

    , , & Factors affecting the reproductive success of dominant male meerkats. Mol. Ecol. 17, 2287–2299 (2008)

  5. 5.

    et al. Intrasexual competition and sexual selection in cooperative mammals. Nature 444, 1065–1068 (2006)

  6. 6.

    , , & Dispersal of first “workers” in social wasps: causes and implications of an alternative reproductive strategy. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 95, 13737–13742 (1998)

  7. 7.

    , , & Fasting or feasting in a fish social hierarchy. Curr. Biol. 18, R372–R373 (2008)

  8. 8.

    et al. Density triggers maternal hormones that increase adaptive offspring growth in a wild mammal. Science 340, 1215–1217 (2013)

  9. 9.

    & Bateman’s principle in cooperatively breeding vertebrates: the effects of non-breeding alloparents on variability in female and male reproductive success. Integr. Comp. Biol. 45, 903–914 (2005)

  10. 10.

    , , , & Adaptive size modification by dominant female meerkats. Evolution 58, 1600–1607 (2004)

  11. 11.

    & Morphological divergence of breeders and helpers in wild Damaraland mole-rat societies. Evolution 64, 3190–3197 (2010)

  12. 12.

    & Phenotypic plasticity in female naked mole-rats after removal from reproductive suppression. J. Exp. Biol. 210, 4351–4358 (2007)

  13. 13.

    Structure and function in mammalian societies. Phil Trans R Soc B 364, 3229–3242 (2009)

  14. 14.

    et al. Evolution and development of sex differences in cooperative behavior in meerkats. Science 297, 253–256 (2002)

  15. 15.

    , & The determinants of dominance relationships among subordinate females in the cooperatively breeding meerkat. Behaviour 151, 89–102 (2014)

  16. 16.

    & Dispersal and extra-territorial prospecting by slender-tailed meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in the south-western Kalahari. J. Zool. 240, 59–73 (1996)

  17. 17.

    , , , & Morphological castes in a vertebrate. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 13194–13197 (2000)

  18. 18.

    et al. Hormonal correlates of dominance in meerkats (Suricata suricatta). Horm. Behav. 46, 141–150 (2004)

  19. 19.

    , & The causes of physiological suppression among female meerkats: a role for subordinate restraint due to the threat of infanticide? Horm. Behav. 53, 131–139 (2008)

  20. 20.

    & Mediation of vertebrate life histories via insulin-like growth factor-1. Biol. Rev. Camb. Phil. Soc. 87, 414–429 (2012)

  21. 21.

    Adaptive intrinsic growth rates: an integration across taxa. Q. Rev. Biol. 72, 149–177 (1997)

  22. 22.

    & Compensation for a bad start: grow now, pay later? Trends Ecol. Evol. 16, 254–260 (2001)

  23. 23.

    et al. Predation, group size and mortality in a cooperative mongoose, Suricata suricatta. J. Anim. Ecol. 68, 672–683 (1999)

  24. 24.

    & Social competition and selection in males and females. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 368, 20130074 (2013)

  25. 25.

    , & Lifetime growth in wild meerkats: incorporating life history and environmental factors into a standard growth model. Oecologia 169, 143–153 (2012)

  26. 26.

    , & Maternal investment during pregnancy in wild meerkats. Evol. Ecol. 27, 1033 (2013)

  27. 27.

    , & Subordinate male meerkats prospect for extra-group paternity: alternative reproductive tactics in a cooperative mammal. Proc. R. Soc. B 274, 1603–1609 (2007)

  28. 28.

    R Development Core Team. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. (2015)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the many volunteers, field managers, PhD students and post-doctoral researchers who have contributed to data collection over the past 15 years, and to D. Gaynor, I. Stevenson, P. Roth, J. Samson, R. Millar, E. Cameron, J. du Toit and M. Haupt for support. We are grateful to M. Manser for her contribution to the organization of the Kalahari Meerkat Project and to C. Drea for additional help and advice. We also thank D. Cram for comments on previous drafts, and A. Bateman, A. Courtiol and M. Crawley for statistical advice. Northern Cape Conservation and the Kotze family provided permission to work in the Kalahari. Our work was approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of the University of Pretoria (project number EC010-13). The Kalahari Meerkat Project is supported and organized by the Universities of Cambridge and Zurich. This research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant NE/G006822/1) and the European Research Council (grant 294494).

Author information

Author notes

    • Sinead English
    •  & Matt B. V. Bell

    Present addresses: Behavioural Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK (S.E.); Institute for Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK (M.B.V.B.).

Affiliations

  1. Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK

    • Elise Huchard
    • , Sinead English
    • , Matt B. V. Bell
    •  & Tim Clutton-Brock
  2. CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS - Université de Montpellier, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

    • Elise Huchard
  3. Department of Zoology and Entomology, Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Gauteng 0002, South Africa

    • Nathan Thavarajah
    •  & Tim Clutton-Brock

Authors

  1. Search for Elise Huchard in:

  2. Search for Sinead English in:

  3. Search for Matt B. V. Bell in:

  4. Search for Nathan Thavarajah in:

  5. Search for Tim Clutton-Brock in:

Contributions

E.H. implemented the analysis and drafted the results; T.H.C.-B., S.E. and M.B. planned the experiments, which were conducted by N.T. and other members of the Kalahari Meerkat Project; E.H., S.E., M.B. and T.H.C.-B. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Elise Huchard.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17986

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.