Meerkat manners: Endocrine mediation of female dominance and reproductive control in a cooperative breeder.

Journal Article (Review;Journal Article)

This article is part of a Special Issue (Hormones and Hierarchies). To gain more balanced understanding of sexual selection and mammalian sexual differentiation processes, this review addresses behavioral sex differences and hormonal mediators of intrasexual competition in the meerkat (Suricata suricatta) - a cooperative breeder unusual among vertebrates in its female aggression, degree of reproductive skew, and phenotypic divergence. Focused on the evolution, function, mechanism, and development of female dominance, the male remains a key reference point throughout. Integrated review of endocrine function does not support routine physiological suppression in subordinates of either sex, but instead a ramp up of weight, reproduction, aggression, and sex steroids, particularly androgens, in dominant females. Important and timely questions about female competition are thus addressed by shifting emphasis from mediators of reproductive suppression to mediators of reproductive control, and from organizational and activational roles of androgens in males to their roles in females. Unusually, we ask not only how inequity is maintained, but how dominance is acquired within a lifetime and across generations. Antiandrogens administered in the field to males and pregnant dominant females confirm the importance of androgen-mediated food competition. Moreover, effects of maternal endocrine milieu on offspring development reveal a heritable, androgenic route to female aggression, likely promoting reproductive priority along dominant matrilines. Integrating endocrine measures with long-term behavioral, ecological, morphological, and life-history data on normative and experimental individuals, across life stages and generations, provides better appreciation of the role of naturally circulating androgens in regulating the female phenotype, and sheds new light on the evolution of female dominance, reproductive inequity, and cooperative breeding.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Drea, CM; Davies, CS

Published Date

  • September 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 145 /

Start / End Page

  • 105245 -

PubMed ID

  • 35988450

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1095-6867

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0018-506X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2022.105245


  • eng