Competition, breeding success and ageing rates in female meerkats


Stuart Sharp, Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
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Competition between females is particularly intense in cooperatively breeding mammals, where one female monopolises reproduction in each group. Chronic competition often affects stress and may therefore have long-term consequences for fitness, but no studies have yet investigated whether intrasexual competition has effects of this kind and, in particular, whether it affects rates of reproductive senescence. Here, we use long-term data from a wild population of meerkats to test whether reproductive success and senescence in dominant females are affected by the degree of intrasexual competition experienced prior to dominance acquisition. Females that experienced greater competition had lower breeding success and higher rates of reproductive senescence. Furthermore, females that were evicted from the group more frequently as subordinates had lower breeding success when dominant. We conclude that the intense intrasexual competition between females in cooperatively breeding groups may carry fitness costs over a longer period than is usually recognised.