Research Article

Selfish Sentinels in Cooperative Mammals

Science  04 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5420, pp. 1640-1644
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5420.1640

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Abstract

Like humans engaged in risky activities, group members of some animal societies take turns acting as sentinels. Explanations of the evolution of sentinel behavior have frequently relied on kin selection or reciprocal altruism, but recent models suggest that guarding may be an individual's optimal activity once its stomach is full if no other animal is on guard. This paper provides support for this last explanation by showing that, in groups of meerkats (Suricata suricatta), animals guard from safe sites, and solitary individuals as well as group members spend part of their time on guard. Though individuals seldom take successive guarding bouts, there is no regular rota, and the provision of food increases contributions to guarding and reduces the latency between bouts by the same individual.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: thcb{at}hermes.cam.ac.uk

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