The role of neighbour proximity and context on meerkat close call acoustic structure


In many animal species, including humans, producer arousal state is considered a key modifier of vocal production and structure. Encoding of affective arousal state in vocalizations provides a rapid means of information transfer about an individual’s internal state, potentially reflecting its response to external stimuli. Meerkats, Suricata suricatta, are a highly vocal species. They use close calls to maintain group cohesion while foraging. Due to their patchily distributed prey, motivation for neighbour proximity varies; being too close results in competition (increased arousal–aggression), while too far results in risks of losing the group and predation threats (increased arousal–fear). We investigated how neighbour proximity and behavioural, social and environmental context influence the acoustic structure of wild meerkats’ close calls. We found little effect of neighbour distance on the majority of the acoustic parameters measured, although close calls were longer and had a higher fundamental frequency when in very close proximity. However, there was a consistent effect of the behavioural context in which the call was given across several acoustic parameters. Overall, meerkat close calls potentially convey information on current behaviour, highlighting a potential mechanism in the diversification of acoustic signals.


Driscoll, I., Briefer, E. F., Manser, M. B. 2024. The role of neighbour proximity and context on meerkat close call acoustic structure. Animal Behaviour. 212. 113-126.

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