Activational and maternal effects on meerkat vocal communication
In social species like meerkats, animals form complex relationships and social structures that require sustained communication between group members in order to be maintained. Animal vocalisations, like human voices, can provide a plethora of information regarding an individual’s sex, age, size, social rank, motivation and hormonal status. Hormones, such as cortisol and testosterone, are powerful chemicals that mediate many behaviours and social interactions, but the extent to which they affect vocal communication is still not very well understood. Vocal communication is crucial to meerkats as they use different calls to coordinate group movement, alert others to the presence of predators and conspecifics, and also to elicit and respond to social stimuli. Thus, the main aim of my research is to understand how cortisol, a stress hormone, and testosterone, a sex hormone, affect the vocal behaviour of meerkats across multiple contexts like foraging, social and agonistic interactions. Additionally, I am interested in understanding how maternal hormones may affect the vocal and behavioural development of their offspring and the implications these effects may have regarding their social rank, longevity and reproductive success.