Consistent individual differences in cooperative behaviour in meerkats (Suricata suricatta)


Sinéad English, Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB23EJ, UK.
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Although recent models for the evolution of personality, using game theory and life-history theory, predict that individuals should differ consistently in their cooperative behaviour, consistent individual differences in cooperative behaviour have rarely been documented. In this study, we used a long-term data set on wild meerkats to quantify the repeatability of two types of cooperative care (babysitting and provisioning) within individuals and examined how repeatability varied across age, sex and status categories. Contributions to babysitting and provisioning were significantly repeatable and positively correlated within individuals, with provisioning more repeatable than babysitting. While repeatability of provisioning was relatively invariant across categories of individuals, repeatability of babysitting increased with age and was higher for subordinates than dominants. These results provide support for theoretical predictions that life-history trade-offs favour the evolution of consistent individual differences in cooperative behaviour and raise questions about why some individuals consistently help more than others across a suite of cooperative behaviours.