Inbreeding is impacting the chances of survival for wild meerkats

Heir to the throne: The baby meerkat is adjusting to life at the St Andrews Aquarium.
Meerkats: The animals live in groups of up to 50.

Inbreeding among meerkats is impacting their chances of survival, according to a study.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh joined those from Cambridge, Zurich and the Zoological Society of London to carry out research into the animals in the wild.

They found 44% of meerkats showed some evidence of inbreeding. It means their pups are smaller, lighter and less likely to survive.

It is not closely related meerkats who breed but distantly related meerkats, who are unfamiliar with each other.

This could be because they live in separate groups.

The mammals live in groups of up to 50 individuals and subordinate adults help parents care for their offspring.

A 20-year study looked at 2000 wild meerkats in groups at the Kuruman River Reserve in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa. Scientists recorded births, deaths and the movement of the animals between colonies.

They also carried out DNA tests to establish the parentage of all newborn pups.

The results of the study are published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

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