The number of subordinates moderates intrasexual competition among males in cooperatively breeding meerkats
For dominant individuals in cooperatively breeding species, the presence of subordinates is associated with both benefits (i.e. increased reproductive output and other group-living benefits) and costs (i.e. intrasexual competition on reproduction).
The biological market theory predicts that dominant individuals are tolerant to same-sex group members when there are only a few subordinates, so as to maximize their own reproductive success. We investigated factors affecting aggression by dominant males and submission by subordinate males for a cooperatively breeding mammal, meerkats, Suricata suricatta. In this species, reproductive conflict occurs between the dominant male and the non-offspring males. As predicted, the number of subordinates in a group was positively associated with the aggression frequency by the dominant male and with the submission frequency by the subordinate males. Relative to the aggression frequency against male offspring, the frequency of aggression against non-offspring males was comparable in small groups, but was higher in large groups. These results indicate that reproductive conflict is present between the dominant male and the non-offspring males but is moderated in groups with small numbers of subordinates. This study provides an empirical data agreeing with the biological market theory in the context of intrasexual competition in cooperatively breeding species.
Title: The number of subordinates moderates intrasexual competition among males in cooperatively breeding meerkats
Authors: Nobuyuki Kutsukake and Tim H Clutton-Brock