Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Social network structure and personality in captive meerkat, Suricata suricatta, populations : assessment, comparison between wild and captive meerkat populations and captive management implications
Author: Pacheco Pacheco, Martha Xareni
ISNI:       0000 0004 7226 1517
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2017
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Access from Institution:
Research into the social behaviour of wild animals living in groups has demonstrated the importance of social structure dynamics and their consequences for an individual’s fitness. Many aspects of animal behaviour and ecology, including interactions with conspecifics, habitat use and willingness to take risks, can be a reflection of personality. One of the key concerns of captive animal husbandry is the social environment, as it is regularly modified and can shape the social behaviour of the animals in question in different ways. In this thesis I explore how meerkat, Suricata suricatta, social dynamics and individual positions may differ between wild and captive groups; I explore personality in the context of social networks and, lastly, I explore how physical and husbandry factors vary across enclosures and how this corresponds to a variation in the social structure of meerkats. Differences were found between the fifteen groups of captive meerkats when considering association networks based on foraging and resting. Some of these differences could be explained by intrinsic differences between the groups. An individual’s position within a network as described by their centrality and closeness measures could be predicted by their age and status, but rarely by their sex. I did not detect consistent patterns of non-random assortment amongst group members based on their sex, age or status. Groups of wild and captive meerkats differed in various aspects of their social network structure. Such differences may be due to individuals occupying different network positions and the difference in their number and strength of their connections to other individuals. This distinct way of interacting and associating could be a result of group specific attributes, such as group size, and/or the attributes of the donor and recipient, including sex, status or age. Critically, the differences may be explained by the dissimilar living environment that each encounters. The current results suggest that a meerkat social network in captive conditions can be less consistent than in their wild environment in the way they associate with one another, and in the manner they occupy particular positions in the network. Principal component analysis of the four personality traits revealed two personality dimensions, Friendliness and Aggressiveness, across the fifteen groups of meerkats. However, within a subset of my data (five groups), Friendliness was the only measure that robustly captured consistent individual differences across at least one year. A relationship was not found between attributes and personality dimensions due to age, status, and sex. Individuals with high Friendliness scores were more central in networks of foraging competitions. Aggressiveness did not explain an individual’s position in any form of interaction. There was no evidence that meerkats preferentially associated with or avoid others based on each of their personality scores. A relationship was found in the way animals associate with one another in the resting network based on the size and complexity of the enclosure and the type of shelter. Individuals were less likely to associate with others of the same sex or dominance status in enclosures that were larger or more complex. All the six external measures (the size and complexity of the enclosure, the type of barrier and day shelter, environmental enrichment frequency and human contact) influenced how individuals interacted with other group members within grooming, playing and dominance networks. In general, it seems to be that the key features to address in meerkat management in zoos are those of enclosure size and complexity (and perhaps provision of adequate shelters). Providing captive meerkats with more naturalistic and complex enclosures can help to preserve their natural social system.
Supervisor: Madden, Joah Sponsor: National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), Mexico
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social network structure ; Personality ; Behaviour ; Captivity