Virtual Issue: Social Network Analysis 


Understanding the causes of structure within populations, and the consequences that structure has, is a central question in ecology. Approaches from graph theory – or network theory – where entities can be represented as nodes, and any sort of connection between them as an edge, have been used in community ecology for some time. Characterising a network of species interaction provides access to a host of quantitative methods for describing and understanding the structure of those interactions, at both smaller and higher levels.

More recently, the utility of network analysis has been embraced with some enthusiasm by ecologists interested in social behaviour, social structure, and the effects of social structure on a wide range of ecological processes. The enthusiasm reflects not only the fact that network analysis provides new, standardised, and rigorously quantitative methods to describe social structure. Using network analysis also provides a theoretical framework to understand some of the key emergent properties of social structure, from the extent to which they result from non-random assortment of different types of individuals, to the effect they have on the transmission of properties, such as disease and information, in natural populations. This increased enthusiasm has been driven in part by technological developments. First, the development of automated observation or logging devices provides access to potentially very much larger quantities of data than could be obtained by observation alone. Second, increased computing power has greatly facilitated the analysis of social networks, for which computer-intensive methods are frequently needed to construct appropriate null models.

Constructing, conducting and interpreting animal social network analysis by Damien R. Farine and Hal WhiteheadJournal of Animal Ecology has been at the forefront of this recent surge of application of social network analysis in animal populations, and this Virtual Issue has been compiled to reflect that and to coincide with the publication of an open access 'How to...' guide to social network analysis by Damien Farine and Hal Whitehead. Farine & Whitehead’s comprehensive guide deals not only with the methods involved, but also emphasises the need to think carefully about the way that data collection and observation constrain the types of social processes that can be studied, and also looks forward to the use of social network analysis as a way to test and quantify many poorly understood processes in animal populations.

Over recent years, empirical papers in Journal of Animal Ecology featured in this Virtual Issue have reflected some of the points that Farine & Whitehead make. Perkins et al. show how the method of observation and construction of a social network matters a lot for its resultant structure, and Lusseau et al. show how the social network of bottle-nosed dolphins results from largely short-term associations between individuals in a classic fisson-fusion society. Tanner and Jackson show that the social network structure of a crab results from the interaction between resource distribution and individual behavioural variability. A common focus of social network studies papers in Journal of Animal Ecology has been their use in understanding pathogen spread, or the potential for pathogen spread, in animal populations. Böhm et al. and Rushmore et al. used observations of badgers and chimpanzees respectively to construct social networks and to model the potential effects of the resultant structures on the transmission of pathogens. Fenner et al. and VanderWaal et al. applied the methods to understand the role of social structure in explaining the distribution of three contrasting pathogens (a nematode, a tick and E. coli). Fenner et al’s analysis suggests that the transmission of different parasites is driven by social interactions of different classes of individuals, with residents and dispersers playing pathogen taxon-dependent roles.

Social network structure can influence many other processes, and papers by Schlicht et al. and McFarland et al. illustrate this nicely. Schlicht et al. use a network-like approach to understand how the occurrence of extra-pair paternity in blue tits depends on the properties of the local network of neighbours. McFarland et al. show how variable thermal stress in primates can be explained in terms of social network position.

Finally, Tur et al. combine an individual-level social network approach with a community network, to ask whether understanding individual variability in associations in an insect-pollinator network provides a more refined picture of a community network; they show that individual specialisation is masked by a species-level analysis and hence that combining these approaches may offer a much more refined understanding of interactions within communities of species.

Ben Sheldon
Editor, Journal of Animal Ecology

Constructing, conducting, and interpreting animal social network analysis
Damien R. Farine and Hal Whitehead

Comparison of social networks derived from ecological data: implications for inferring infectious disease dynamics
Sarah E. Perkins, Francesca Cagnacci, Anna Stradiotto, Daniele Arnoldi and Peter J. Hudson

Quantifying the influence of sociality on population structure in bottlenose dolphins

Social structure emerges via the interaction between local ecology and individual behaviour
Colby J. Tanner, and Andrew L. Jackson

Dynamic interactions among badgers: implications for sociality and disease transmission
Monika Böhm, Kate L. Palphramand, Geraldine Newton-Cross, Michael R. Hutchings and Piran C. L. White

Social network analysis of wild chimpanzees provides insights for predicting infectious disease risk
Julie Rushmore, Damien Caillaud, Leopold Matamba, Rebecca M. Stumpf, Stephen P. Borgatti and Sonia Altizer

Using social networks to deduce whether residents or dispersers spread parasites in a lizard population
Aaron L. Fenner, Stephanie S. Godfrey and C. Michael Bull

Linking social and pathogen transmission networks using microbial genetics in giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
Kimberly L. VanderWaal, Edward R. Atwill, Lynne. A. Isbell and Brenda McCowan

Spatial patterns of extra-pair paternity: beyond paternity gains and losses
Lotte Schlicht, Mihai Valcu and Bart Kempenaers

Social integration confers thermal benefits in a gregarious primate
Richard McFarland, Andrea Fuller, Robyn S. Hetem, Duncan Mitchell, Shane K. Maloney, S. Peter Henzi and Louise Barrett

Downscaling pollen–transport networks to the level of individuals
Cristina Tur, Beatriz Vigalondo, Kristian Trøjelsgaard, Jens M. Olesen and Anna Travese

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