Deferred benefits of dominance for natal males in a cooperative breeder, the Kalahari meerkat
In many cooperatively breeding mammals, an unrelated dominant pair monopolizes reproduction in the social group while subordinates help to raise their offspring. In Kalahari meerkats (Suricata suricatta), dominant males are usually immigrants while dominant females are natal animals that have not left the group where they were born. However, in around 20% of cases, a natal male acquires and holds the dominant position – despite being closely related to the dominant female. Natal dominant males seldom mate within their group (either with the dominant female or with subordinate females) and the benefits they accrue from acquiring and main- taining the dominant position are not obvious. Here, we describe the circumstances in which natal males acquire dominance and explore the possible benefits they gain by comparing the life history, growth and behavioural differences between natal dominants, natal subordinates and immigrant dominants in wild groups. We show that natal dominant males do not appear to obtain any survival, nutritional or reproductive benefits from their status while they remain in the natal group. How- ever, after dispersing from their natal group, they have a higher chance of acquir- ing dominant status in another breeding group, suggesting that acquiring dominance in their natal group has deferred direct fitness benefits for male meerkats.
Online Publication Date
European Research Council (742808)