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Social Networks and Animal Behavior

Social networks is a promising tool for the analysis of behavior  in not just human relationships, but in many different animal interactions as well. As we’ve learned in class, social network analysis is the study of social groups as networks of nodes connected by social ties. This allows the study of individuals and groups in the context of relationships between members. Studying the aspects of sociality (which implies a number of individuals living/interacting together), helps researchers understand the causes and consequences of such complex social relationships and structure. This paper focuses on highlighting the potential as well as constraints of some network measures. In doing so, the researchers first start the paper including the multiple definitions and terminology (which are the same as what we’ve learned in lecture) that are part of the social network jargon in order to explain to the scientific community what exactly a social network is.

Behavioral biologists have recognized the potential of modern network tools to broader contexts – there have been diverse applications of current network theory to nonhuman species. One such case in bottle-nosed dolphins revealed many notable relational aspects of their social structure. It was found that, similar to humans, affiliation by sex and age were important in group formation in dolphins, and few individuals held structurally important positions in the social network. Dolphin networks also had a combination of highly clustered subgroups and short average path lengths (which also can be found in human social networks), and their ties were mainly based on short-term associations.

In addition to studying behavior, social network analysis may aid in understanding epidemiology. The spreading of diseases may depend on network structure because of the various modes  of transmissions. Therefore, this kind of analysis may be crucial in determining to what degree the spread of various pathogens depends on social relationships in animals as well as suggesting which members may be the most influential in disease transfer. This paper gives an insightful view to the different aspects of social networks and how it can be used in many different relationships.


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