, Volume 169, Issue 1, pp 143-153
Date: 23 Nov 2011

Lifetime growth in wild meerkats: incorporating life history and environmental factors into a standard growth model

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Abstract

Lifetime records of changes in individual size or mass in wild animals are scarce and, as such, few studies have attempted to model variation in these traits across the lifespan or to assess the factors that affect them. However, quantifying lifetime growth is essential for understanding trade-offs between growth and other life history parameters, such as reproductive performance or survival. Here, we used model selection based on information theory to measure changes in body mass over the lifespan of wild meerkats, and compared the relative fits of several standard growth models (monomolecular, von Bertalanffy, Gompertz, logistic and Richards). We found that meerkats exhibit monomolecular growth, with the best model incorporating separate growth rates before and after nutritional independence, as well as effects of season and total rainfall in the previous nine months. Our study demonstrates how simple growth curves may be improved by considering life history and environmental factors, which may be particularly relevant when quantifying growth patterns in wild populations.

Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.