Cooperative Breeding in Meerkats
Biology 342 Fall 08
Daniel Bernstein and Justine Spencer
Cooperative breeding behavior is a behavior that is common among species for which rearing young is costly in time and energy. Cooperative breeding in the eusocial meerkat, Suricata suricatta, has developed into an effectively obligatory behavior because of the high cost of rearing young in the seasonal extremes of the Kalahari Desert (Doolan and Macdonald 1999; Clutton-Brock, Russell et al. 2002). The specific combination of the harsh environment and the physiological reproductive differences between males and females has led to the differentiation of cooperative breeding behavior among male and female meerkats. Females are the sex that is physically capable of birthing young, and they are also the sex that produces sustenance (breast milk) for offspring. Males can perform neither of these things.
Female Breeding Behavior
Photo courtesy of Martin Spencer.
Meerkats are part of the mongoose family, which are showed here in relation to other species. They are most closely related to hyenas and civets, and more closely related to cats than to dogs.
Courtesy of whozoo.org