Saturday, December 4, 2010


In this blog I intend to report and discuss the use of social network analysis in the study of animal behavior. The recent advances in the field of networks analysis in the last decade enable biologists studying animal behavior to quantify the social relations between individuals in a way that was not possible before. While in past you could only measure very basic properties of a social structure (e.g., group size, group sex composition), now you can quantify many more aspects of social living, both at the individual and group level.
Most past studies used social rank, or hierarchy, based solely on negative interactions. I believe that while negative interactions are important, in many species it is the positive ties that can tell us much more about the strong (and weak) individuals in a social system.

I came to learn about social networks while studying communication and social behavior of the rock hyrax in the Judean Desert in Israel. I found network methods to be extremely helpful in describing the social structure of my study population.
Hyraxes in Ein Gedi

While the first studies of animals using social networks were mostly descriptive, drawing the social interactions between individuals, recent studies revealed correlations between individual social attributes and fitness. These recent works emphasize the importance of the social relationships an animal has with its conspecifics in determining its life history and fitness. Such studies were not possible without applying social networks methods to data collected from animal observations.

I expect that the usage of network methods will change the way we view sociality in animals, as it has already began in humans. The next decade will bring with it a new thinking about the evolution of sociality and its role in animals' lives.

In my next posts I plan to discuss some relevant papers, and also some general issues like methodology, the kind of questions we can answer using social networks and the integration between animal and human studies, among other topics.

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