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Data from: Social conflict and costs of cooperation in meerkats are reflected in measures of stress hormones


Dantzer, Ben; Bennett, Nigel C.; Clutton-Brock, Tim H. (2017), Data from: Social conflict and costs of cooperation in meerkats are reflected in measures of stress hormones, Dryad, Dataset,


Measures of glucocorticoid stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) have often been used to characterize conflict between subordinates and dominants. In cooperative breeders where subordinates seldom breed in their natal group and assist in offspring rearing, increases in subordinate glucocorticoid levels may be caused by conflict among subordinates as well as by the energetic costs of helping behavior and fluctuations in food availability may exacerbate these effects. During a 6-year study of Kalahari meerkats (Suricata suricatta), we investigated how social, environmental, and individual characteristics influenced subordinate plasma cortisol levels. Subordinate females, who are often the target of aggression from dominant females, had higher cortisol levels when the dominant female in their group was pregnant while the cortisol levels of subordinate males were unaffected by the reproductive state of dominant females. Subordinates of both sexes had higher cortisol levels if they belonged to groups 1) where neither of the dominant breeders in the group were their parents, 2) that contained a high proportion of subordinate females, or 3) that were either very large or very small, especially when the weather was cold and dry. Subordinates in groups containing young pups had higher cortisol levels. Finally, cortisol levels were higher in subordinates of both sexes if they were lighter for their age or had lost little body mass the night prior to sampling. Our results show that both social conflict and cooperative behavior can elevate glucocorticoid levels in subordinates and that both effects can be modified by variation in weather and food availability.

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