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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Meet the Meerkats of the Kalahari

Earthwatchers investigated how and why the meerkats of South Africa’s Kalahari region cooperate in raising their young.

Previously Funded Expedition

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

Data collected by Earthwatch volunteers and resident researchers helped answer questions about the costs and benefits of group living.

This long-term project enabled researchers to explore the impact of cooperative breeding on animal populations.

Kalahari meerkats care for one another’s young, an unusual behavior called cooperative breeding. Researchers know little about the outcomes of cooperative breeding for species—they wonder, for example, if cooperative breeding makes it easier or more difficult for groups of animals to grow and thrive.

These researchers used meerkats as a model for investigating such questions. They recorded the growth, breeding success, and survival of all individuals in the 20 meerkat groups in the study area, and compared that information with daily records of precipitation and temperature and weekly records of plant cover and food availability. In addition, the group measured predation, the incidence of tuberculosis, rates of animals joining or leaving the study population, and the frequency of group establishment.

meerkat

Meerkat appearing from burrow.

In addition to investigating the larger outcomes of cooperative breeding, the researchers explored the question of why animals like meerkats work together. Long-term data and specific individual data collected by Earthwatch volunteers and researchers helped to answer a number of questions on the costs and benefits of group living and to answer the question of why some animals live in cooperative groups.

About the research area

Kuruman River Reserve, South Africa, Africa

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

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The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Tim
Clutton-Brock
Head of the Large Animal Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

ABOUT Tim Clutton-Brock

Dr. Clutton-Brock studies and writes about the ecology of mammals.

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Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food

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