The effects of recruitment to direct predator cues on predator responses in meerkats

Markus Zöttl, Raphaela Lienert, Tim Clutton-Brock, Eva Millesi, Martha Manser

Behavioral responses of animals to direct predator cues (DPCs; e.g., urine) are common and may improve their survival. We investigated wild meerkat (Suricata suricatta) responses to DPCs by taking an experimental approach. When meerkats encounter a DPC they often recruit group members by emitting a call type, which causes the group members to interrupt foraging and approach the caller. The aim of this study was to identify the qualities of olfactory predator cues, which affect the strength of response by meerkats, and determine the benefits of responses to such cues. Experimental exposure to dog (Canis lupus) urine as a DPC revealed that the recruited individuals increased vigilance to fresh urine in comparison to older urine, whereas a higher quantity of urine did not induce such an effect. Both freshness and higher quantities increased the proportion of group members recruited. These results indicate that recruitment might play a crucial role in correctly assessing the current level of danger and that recruiting might facilitate group decision making. To test the prediction that the reaction to a DPC enhances early predator response, we presented a DPC of a predator and a control cue of a herbivore, and each time simultaneously moved a full-mounted caracal (Caracal caracal) in the vicinity of the group. Meerkats responded earlier to the caracal when the DPC was presented, indicating that the response to a DPC facilitates predator response and that they use information from the cue that reliably reflects the risk in the current moment.

External organisation(s)
University of Cambridge, Universität Zürich (UZH)
Behavioral Ecology
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106051 Behavioural biology
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