Student information

Vicky did her thesis on pedigree construction in meerkats

Victoria (Vicky) Hunt from the United States of America finished her EMABG thesis in summer 2008 at Wageningen University (WU) in the Netherlands.

Thesis title

Pedigree construction and relatedness estimation in captive meerkats (Suricata suricatta)


Using a panel of thirteen polymorphic microsatellites, we determined the relatedness within and across populations in two groups (n1 = 17, n2 = 7) of captive meerkats at the Ouwehands Zoo, Rhenen, NL. We also constructed the pedigree for the larger group.

Mean pairwise relatedness within groups was 0.957 (SD ± 0.038) in the larger group, and 0.910 (SD ± 0.040) in the smaller group. Across the two groups, mean relatedness was 0.417 (SD ± 0.034). Therefore, we find that mean pairwise relatedness within groups was similar, and the two groups at the zoo are not highly related to one another. These estimates were determined using molecular coancestry.

Parentage assignments for sires were made with >80% confidence for all eleven offspring using Cervus 3.0. The dominant male sired 91% of the group's offspring. The only other reproductively active male, a subordinate, sired one pup in a litter of mixed paternity.

The dam of all litters was not sampled. As this is in conflict with the zoo's current Animal Records Keeping System (ARKS) report, this conclusion may result in an important correction in the zoo's records. Additionally, these findings help to explain behavioral dynamics within the group; the daughter of the one reproductively active subordinate recently gave birth to a litter of her own, suggesting the possible emergence of a new dominant female. Incest is strictly avoided in meerkats groups. This particular female is the only offspring female that could mate with the dominant male without incest, as all other offspring females are daughters of the dominant.