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Current research
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This section features topics that are currently being investigated in our project.

 

Meerkat's Behavioural Endocrinology

Meerkats and disease

 


Meerkat's Behavioural Endocrinology: Early-life hormones and individual variation in cooperative behaviours in meerkats
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PhD study by Marie-France Barrette

 

Apparent altruism has evolved in several animal species, from bacteria to humans.  Although the ecological and evolutionary bases for complex cooperative breeding systems are now mostly understood, we currently explain little of the wide variability observed among individuals contributing to cooperative offspring care in such systems. Hormones can have profound effects on social behaviours, but little is known about how early-life exposure to hormones may affect the propensity for cooperative care later in life. Maternal hormones are transferred during fetal development and have shown to influence offspring phenotypes in captive animals. Non-genomic maternal effects acting via hormones on cooperative behaviours are thus likely to explain variation in individual contribution to cooperation. In meerkats society, Suricatta suricata, individual variation in alloparental care is associated with current glucocorticoids (GC), steroid hormones of the stress response. However, why individuals vary in GC levels and how this can influence individual contribution to cooperation remains largely unresolved. The aim of my PhD research is thus to investigate the extent at which maternal GC can shape offspring hormonal profiles and cooperative motivation in wild meerkats.

 

Marie-France performs her work at the Kalahari Meerkat Project and at the Smithsonian Institution in Virginia, USA. She is supported in her work by the following collaborators and institutions:

 

Read more about Marie-France's project here.

 


Meerkats and disease
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PhD study by Julian Drewe

 

Meerkats, like most other social mammal species, are susceptible to a wide range of diseases. Up until now, very little has been known about which diseases commonly affect meerkats, and how disease affects them at the population level. In the late 1990s, tuberculosis (TB) was first noticed in the study population of meerkats, and since then we have been actively investigating this naturally-occuring disease. Over the past 10 years, several individuals, and even some whole groups, have died as a result of TB. Currently, we have a full-time veterinarian examining the TB situation in the meerkats. The aims of his research are to establish the mechanisms of natural disease transfer between meerkats and to ascertain the strains of TB involved. If you are a veterinarian or veterinary student and are interested in becoming involved with this research in the near future, please contact us via the form below.

 



Last update:  22:49 23/03 2010
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