PerspectiveBehavioral Ecology

Dividing Up the Kids

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Science  19 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5503, pp. 442-443
DOI: 10.1126/science.1058250

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Among cooperatively breeding mammals such as the meerkat (a type of mongoose), dominant breeding females have been thought to subdue the reproductive activities of subordinate females to optimize their own fitness. Optimal skew or concessions theory predicts that if disgruntled subordinates decide to leave the group, the dominant female will offer them reproductive rights as a concession to induce them to stay. However, as Koenig and Haydock explain in their Perspective, a new field study by Clutton-Brock and colleagues on meerkats in the Kalahari refutes this theory and instead suggests that dominant females have little control over the reproductive rights of subordinates.