Group cohesion in foraging meerkats: Follow the moving ‘vocal hot spot’

Gabriella E.C. Gall*, Marta B. Manser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Group coordination, when ‘on the move’ or when visibility is low, is a challenge faced by many social living animals. While some animals manage to maintain cohesion solely through visual contact, the mechanism of group cohesion through other modes of communication, a necessity when visual contact is reduced, is not yet understood. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta), a small, social carnivore, forage as a cohesive group while moving continuously. While foraging, they frequently emit ‘close calls’, soft close-range contact calls. Variations in their call rates based on their local environment, coupled with individual movement, produce a dynamic acoustic landscape with a moving ‘vocal hotspot’ of the highest calling activity. We investigated whether meerkats follow such a vocal hotspot by playing back close calls of multiple individuals to foraging meerkats from the front and back edge of the group simultaneously. These two artificially induced vocal hotspots caused the group to spatially elongate and split into two subgroups. We conclude that meerkats use the emergent dynamic call pattern of the group to adjust their movement direction and maintain cohesion. Our study describes a highly flexible mechanism for the maintenance of group cohesion through vocal communication, for mobile species in habitats with low visibility and where movement decisions need to be adjusted continuously to changing environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number170004
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume4
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 26 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Close calls
  • Cohesion
  • Coordination
  • Group split
  • Meerkat
  • Vocal hot spot

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