Mechanisms and demographic consequences of dispersal in meerkats
Dispersal is an important process governing the dynamics of spatially and socially structured populations, and the high fitness costs associated with dispersal are likely to induce strong selective pressures on individual social and reproductive strategies. However, mainly due to practical and technological limitations, very few studies were able to follow the fate of individuals during dispersal. Recent advances in tracking technology now enable incorporating detailed information on dispersal, and thus, a better understanding of dispersal as a life-history strategy and its influence on population dynamics.
I investigate the influence of individual, social and environmental factors on dispersal in meerkats (Suricata suricatta) by fitting GPS collars to dispersing subordinate females. Individual-based life-history and climatic data from the long-term data set of the KMP will be used to investigate the individual, social and environmental mechanisms underlying dispersal characteristics, dispersal mortality and settlement dynamics. By coupling novel data on dispersing individuals with the already existing long-term life-history data on within-group dynamics, it will be possible to re-evaluate the fitness consequences of alternative life history strategies. Data from this study will thus allow testing hypotheses on the evolutionary mechanisms of dispersal by adding a new, unexplored dimension to our understanding of the dynamics of spatially and socially structured populations.