Browse/search for people

Publication - Dr Ines Goncalves

    The development of individual differences in cooperative behaviour

    Maternal glucocorticoid hormones alter helping behaviour of offspring in wild meerkats


    Dantzer, B, Dubuc, C, Goncalves, IB, Cram, D, Nigel, B, Ganswindt, A, Heistermann, M, Chris, D, Gaynor, D & Clutton-Brock, TH, 2019, ‘The development of individual differences in cooperative behaviour: Maternal glucocorticoid hormones alter helping behaviour of offspring in wild meerkats’. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, vol 374., pp. 20180117


    The phenotype of parents can have long-lasting effects on the development of offspring aswell as on their behaviour, physiology and morphology as adults. In some cases, these changes may increase offspring fitness but, in others, they can elevate parental fitness at a cost to the fitness of their offspring. We show that in Kalahari meerkats (Suricata suricatta), the circulating glucocorticoid (GC) hormones of pregnant females affect the growth and cooperative behaviour of their offspring.
    We performed a 3-year experiment in wild meerkats to test the hypothesis that GC-mediated maternal effects reduce the potential for offspring to reproduce directly and therefore cause them to exhibit more cooperative behaviour. Daughters (but not sons) born to mothers treated with cortisol during pregnancy grew more slowly early in life and exhibited significantly more of two types of cooperative behaviour (pup rearing and feeding) once they were adults compared to offspring from control mothers. They also had lower measures of GCs as they aged, which could explain the observed increases in cooperative behaviour. Because early life growth is a crucial determinant of fitness in female meerkats, our results indicate that GC-mediated maternal effects may reduce the fitness of offspring, but may elevate parental fitness as a consequence of increasing the cooperative behaviour of their daughters.

    Full details in the University publications repository