Reproduction of lower-ranking meerkats is suppressed
Dominant female meerkats subjected subordinate social stress to prevent reproduction.
Scientists led by Andrew Young from the University of Cambridge investigated how the aggressive behavior of the dominant animals affected the reproduction of lower-ranking females. The physiological stress mostly arose from the exclusion of meerkats from the group. Young and his team found reduced conception rates and increased miscarriage rates in affected animals. The highest-ranking females didn't attack constantly, but only while pregnant or raising their young, the researchers said. In addition, the dominant females did not act against all subordinates, but only against group members who could endanger their reproduction. This particularly includes older, also pregnant or less closely related animals.
In addition to stress, other factors can also be considered as a reason for the reduced birth rate in subordinate females, according to researchers. For example, they often have no access to a male.
Such behavior has not been assumed for species such as meerkats, which raise their offspring together in social groups.