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Experimental field evidence that out-group threats influence within-group behaviour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numberarz095
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Early online date20 Jun 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 29 May 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 20 Jun 2019


In social species, conspecific outsiders present various threats to groups and their members. These out-group threats are predicted to affect subsequent within-group interactions (e.g. affiliation and aggression) and individual behaviour (e.g. foraging and vigilance decisions). However, experimental investigations of such consequences are rare, especially in natural conditions. We used field-based call playbacks and faecal presentations on habituated wild dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula)—a cooperatively breeding, territorial species—to examine post-interaction responses to the simulated threat of a rival group. Dwarf mongooses invested more in grooming of groupmates, foraged closer together and more regularly acted as sentinels (a raised guard) after encountering indicators of rival-group presence compared to control conditions. These behavioural changes likely arise from greater anxiety and, in the case of increased vigilance, the need to seek additional information about the threat. The influence of an out-group threat lasted at least 1 h but individuals of different dominance status and sex responded similarly, potentially because all group members suffer costs if a contest with rivals is lost. Our results provide field-based experimental evidence from wild animals that out-group threats can influence within-group behaviour and decision-making, and suggest the need for greater consideration of the lasting impacts of social conflict.

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