, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 81-95
Date: 23 Jul 2009

The social network structure of a wild meerkat population: 2. Intragroup interactions

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Abstract

Knowledge of the structure of networks of social interactions is important for understanding the evolution of cooperation, transmission of disease, and patterns of social learning, yet little is known of how environmental, ecological, or behavioural factors relate to such structures within groups. We observed grooming, dominance, and foraging competition interactions in eight groups of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) and constructed interaction networks for each behaviour. We investigated relationships between networks for different social interactions and explored how group attributes (size and sex ratio), individual attributes (tenure of dominants), and ecological factors (ectoparasite load) are related to variation in network structure. Network structures varied within a group according to interaction type. Further, network structure varied predictably with group attributes, individual attributes, and ecological factors. Networks became less dense as group size increased suggesting that individuals were limited in their number of partners. Groups with more established dominant females were more egalitarian in their grooming and foraging competition interactions, but more despotic in their dominance interactions. The distribution of individuals receiving grooming became more skewed at higher parasite loads, but more equitable at low parasite loads. We conclude that the pattern of interactions between members of meerkat groups is not consistent between groups but instead depends on general attributes of the group, the influence of specific individuals within the group, and ecological factors acting on group members. We suggest that the variation observed in interaction patterns between members of meerkat groups may have fitness consequences both for individual group members and the group itself.

Communicated by: J. Setchell