Response of foraging group members to sentinel calls in suricates, Suricata suricatta

Martha B. Manser


In the suricate (Suricata suricatta), a cooperatively breeding mongoose, one individual typically watches out for predators while the rest of the group is foraging. Most of the time these sentinels announce their guarding duty with special vocalizations. The response of foraging group members to these calls was investigated by analysing observational data, and by performing playback experiments. The use of special calls by sentinels, and the responses of the foraging group members to them, suggest that the coordination of vigilance is strongly influenced by vocal communication. Sentinel calls decreased the time spent alert by the foraging group members. Other group members were less likely to go on guard when a sentinel was vocalizing. Both the proportion of time during which guards overlapped, and the proportion of time the group was unprotected without a guard, decreased when sentinels announced their duty, due to better coordination of the rotation of sentinels. Suricates, however, do not appear to use sentinel calls to mediate a strict rotation of guarding duty.