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Data from: Group size and social status affect scent marking in dispersing female meerkats

Cite this dataset

Morales González, Ana et al. (2019). Data from: Group size and social status affect scent marking in dispersing female meerkats [Dataset]. Dryad.


Many animal species use scent marks such as faeces, urine, and glandular secretions to find mates, advertise their reproductive status, and defend an exclusive territory. Scent marking may be particularly important during dispersal, when individuals emigrate from their natal territory searching for mates and a new territory to settle and reproduce. In this study, we investigated the scent marking behaviour of 30 dispersing female meerkats (Suricata suricatta) during the three consecutive stages of dispersal – emigration, transience, and settlement. We expected marking patterns to differ between dispersal stages and depending on social circumstances such as presence of unrelated mates and social status of the individuals within each dispersing coalition; but also to be influenced by water and food availability. We showed that defecation probability increased with group size during the settlement stage, when newly formed groups are expected to signal their presence to other resident groups. Urination probability was higher in subordinate than in dominant individuals during each of the three dispersal stages, and it overall decreased as the dispersal process progressed. Urine may thus be linked to advertisement of the social status within a coalition. Anal marking probability did not change across dispersal stages, but increased with the presence of unrelated males and was higher in dominants than in subordinates. We did not detect any effect of rain or foraging success on defecation and urination probability. Our results suggest that faeces, urine, and anal markings serve different communication purposes (e.g. within and between group communication) during the dispersal process.

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Kalahari desert
South Africa