Evolution and Development of Sex Differences in Cooperative Behavior in Meerkats

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Science  12 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5579, pp. 253-256
DOI: 10.1126/science.1071412

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In cooperatively breeding birds, where helpers of both sexes assist with the provisioning and upbringing of offspring who are not their own, males tend to contribute more than females to rearing young. This sex difference has been attributed to paternity uncertainty, but could also occur because males contribute more where they are likely to remain and breed in their group of origin. In contrast to most birds, female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are more likely to breed in their natal group than males. We show that female meerkat helpers contribute more to rearing young than males and that female helpers feed female pups more frequently than males. Our results suggest that sex differences in cooperative behavior are generated by sex differences in philopatry and occur because females derive greater direct benefits than males from raising recruits to their natal group. These findings support the view that direct, mutualistic benefits are important in the evolution of specialized cooperative behavior.

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