We just published a new manuscript in Proceedings of the Royal Society B about how elevated stress can suppress the cooperative behavior of wild meerkats. We also show that dominant female meerkats do not elevate the cooperative behavior of the subordinates in their group by beating them up. This work was done in collaboration with Tim Clutton-Brock and the Kalahari Meerkat Project. Check out the news release and the manuscript!
Lay Summary of Publication: Studies of group-living species like meerkats where there are dominants and subordinates show that there may be substantial costs to being a subordinate. Just like in humans where there are socially dominant individuals (“alpha males”!) that can take out their frustrations on subordinates, subordinate meerkats can receive aggression from the dominant individuals in their groups. This can elevate the stress levels of the subordinates and may suppress the ability of the subordinates to reproduce on their own. For quite some time, the elevated stress levels in subordinates were thought to be beneficial to the dominants because it allows the dominants to be the only individuals reproducing in the group. However, we show that the elevated stress levels could come at some cost. Subordinates in these groups also exhibit cooperative behavior where they help to rear the offspring produced by the dominant breeders. We show that elevated stress levels in subordinates could make them less helpful. In other words, it may pay to be helpful to your subordinates. If you manage people, take note of the benefits of being nice to them.