The final blog for the Journal of Animal Ecology’s Animal Social Network Special Issue, this blog post is provided by Sebastian Sosa, one of the editors of the special issue.
Over the last 50 years, Social Network Analysis (SNA) has become a multidisciplinary toolbox that allows researchers to study natural or artificial interconnected systems, at the microscopic1 or macroscopic scale2. The use of SNA in the study of animal societies has led to a fundamental shift in our thinking on sociality through its implications in genetics3, spatial movements4, assemblages of groups from the same species or different species5, epidemiology6, animal cultures7, at an evolutionary level8 and in the conservation of populations9. The combination of SNA with Hinde’s 197610 conceptual society structuring framework makes it possible to examine different levels of animal societies, from the mechanisms that shape heterogeneity in individuals’ sociality and its consequences to social interaction strategies and, ultimately, to understand how these different aspects lead to the establishment of specific social structures11. A major effort has been made over the two last decades to gain more insight into the way social relationships are formed and their effect both at the individual and group levels12. However, as individuals are organisms that constantly change and that live in ever-changing environments, an increasing number of studies are focusing on integrating the multiple temporal or environmental (ecological and social) factors involved in individual and group social dynamics. Hence, it has been recently hypothesized that the social dynamics linked to environmental constraints are likely to generate a dynamic in group social structure and that this specific structure may in turn affect individuals’ sociality 8.
This Joint Special Feature gathers, in Journal of Animal Ecology, research on individual sociality or group social structure dynamics over time and/or across contexts as well as on how these aspects may affect several evolutionary processes such as individual fitness or gene flow dynamics generated by the social structure itself. Animals are increasingly inhabiting a world impacted by anthropogenic-driven disturbances and understand such dynamics between environment and sociality may provide a better knowledge on how changes in the environment affect animal populations to hopefully contribute to better orientate the preventative or remedial actions to be undertaken in this regard. Therefore, we also selected a set of studies that investigate or provide new tools to investigate the effects of anthropic environments on individuals’ sociality and social groups. Finally, although SNA is gaining popularity, it comes with some constraints related to the type of data and the system being studied. This is why reliable methodological developments are needed for data collection procedures, hypothesis testing, or the interpretation of results. This is another facet of SNA that we explore through a selection of articles gathered in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
With this Joint Special Feature, we propose a collection of studies that represent a step forward in improving our understanding of the complex phenomena that affect or are affected by sociality by reintegrating individuals and social groups dynamics into their environment and redefining new standards for the applications of SNA in animal research for the years to come: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2041-210X.13539.
1 Jeong, H., Mason, S. P., Barabási, A.-L. & Oltvai, Z. N. Lethality and centrality in protein networks. Nature 411, 41-42 (2001).
2 Gutiérrez, R., Materassi, M., Focardi, S. & Boccaletti, S. Steering complex networks toward desired dynamics. Scientific Reports 10, 20744, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-77663-1 (2020).
3 Brent, L. J. et al. Genetic origins of social networks in rhesus macaques. Scientific Reports 3, 1042 (2013).
4 Mourier, J., Ledee, E. J. & Jacoby, D. M. A multilayer perspective for inferring spatial and social functioning in animal movement networks. bioRxiv, 749085 (2019).
5 Pasquaretta, C. et al. A spatial network analysis of resource partitioning between bumblebees foraging on artificial flowers in a flight cage. Movement ecology 7, 4 (2019).
6 Duboscq, J., Romano, V., MacIntosh, A. & Sueur, C. Social information transmission in animals: lessons from studies of diffusion. Frontiers in psychology 7, 1147 (2016).
7 Allen, J., Weinrich, M., Hoppitt, W. & Rendell, L. Network-based diffusion analysis reveals cultural transmission of lobtail feeding in humpback whales. Science 340, 485-488 (2013).
8 Sueur, C., Romano, V., Sosa, S. & Puga-Gonzalez, I. Mechanisms of network evolution: a focus on socioecological factors, intermediary mechanisms, and selection pressures. Primates 60, 167-181 (2019).
9 VanderWaal, K. L., Atwill, E. R., Isbell, L. A. & McCowan, B. Quantifying microbe transmission networks for wild and domestic ungulates in Kenya. Biological Conservation 169, 136-146 (2014).
10 Hinde, R. A. Interactions, relationships and social structure. Man, 1-17 (1976).
11 Sosa, S., Sueur, C. & Puga-Gonzalez, I. Network measures in animal social network analysis: Their strengths, limits, interpretations and uses. Methods in Ecology and Evolution n/a, doi:10.1111/2041-210x.13366.
12 Cantor, M. et al. The importance of individual‐to‐society feedbacks in animal ecology and evolution. Journal of Animal Ecology (2020).