According to new research, meerkats enhance their intelligence through nine different social and asocial mechanisms. What really makes these animals stand out is their intelligent coordinated behaviour, which rivals that of chimps, baboons, dolphins and even humans in its complexity and efficiency.
A team led by William Hoppitt of the University of St. Andrews presented wild meerkats with a novel foraging task to investigate the animal’s learning mechanisms. ‘The model deals with the rate at which individuals interact with the task, solve the task once they are interacting with it, or give up on the task when they are manipulating it,’ said Hoppitt.
They found that the meerkats engaged in a wide variety of social and asocial behaviours to learn to solve the task, and that in general the social factors helped draw the meerkats into the task, while the asocial processes helped them actually solve the task.
The model may also be more broadly applicable and can be used to investigate the relationship between social learning mechanisms and so-called ‘behavioural traditions’ that together can constitute a culture.