Moving calls: a vocal mechanism underlying quorum decisions in cohesive groups

Christophe A. H. Bousquet, David J. T. Sumpter, Marta B. Manser


Members of social groups need to coordinate their behaviour when choosing between alternative activities. Consensus decisions enable group members to maintain group cohesion and one way to reach consensus is to rely on quorums. A quorum response is where the probability of an activity change sharply increases with the number of individuals supporting the new activity. Here, we investigated how meerkats (Suricata suricatta) use vocalizations in the context of movement decisions. Moving calls emitted by meerkats increased the speed of the group, with a sharp increase in the probability of changing foraging patch when the number of group members joining the chorus increased from two up to three. These calls had no apparent effect on the group's movement direction. When dominant individuals were involved in the chorus, the group's reaction was not stronger than when only subordinates called. Groups only increased speed in response to playbacks of moving calls from one individual when other group members emitted moving calls as well. The voting mechanism linked to a quorum probably allows meerkat groups to change foraging patches cohesively with increased speed. Such vocal coordination may reflect an aggregation rule linking individual assessment of foraging patch quality to group travel route.

  • Received August 12, 2010.
  • Accepted October 13, 2010.
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