Socially informed dispersal in a spatially structured population
For species such as the Kalahari meerkat, that live in socially and spatially structured groups, the presence and distribution of conspecifics are fundamental ecological drivers influencing, among others, aggression and territorial behaviour, breeding strategies, group formation and social organisation. Dispersers too (i.e. individual that leave the natal group), are exposed to the social influence exerted by conspecifics and such pressure can be anticipated to effect decision-making and dispersal success.
Each stage of dispersal is dependent on different internal, ecological, environmental, and social drivers, and our ability to understand the mechanisms of dispersal relies greatly on our knowledge of the landscape through which dispersal occurs. Yet, while acquisition of ecological and environmental data (e.g. habitat type) is made possible by advances in remote sensing techniques; information on the social landscape is inherently difficult to obtain and requires simulataneous monitoring of the spatial distribution of dispersers and conspecifics.
With this subproject, that is conducted at the Population Ecology Research Group at Zurich University and in collaboration with the Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement – EPFL, Department of Biosciences – Swansea, we want to test the hypothesis that dispersing meerkats prefer to move in areas less visited by territorial groups to reduce aggressive interactions. For this we fit GPS radio collars on dispersing coalitions of female meerkats and daily followed their movements across territories occupied by resident groups.