Browsing Biological Sciences by Subjects
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Animal Social Network Theory Can Help Wildlife ConservationMany animals preferentially associate with certain other individuals. This social structuring can influence how populations respond to changes to their environment, thus making network analysis a promising technique for understanding, predicting and potentially manipulating population dynamics. Various network statistics can correlate with individual fitness components and key population-level processes, yet the logical role and formal application of animal social network theory for conservation and management have not been well articulated. We outline how understanding of direct and indirect relationships between animals can be profitably applied by wildlife managers and conservationists. By doing so, we aim to stimulate the development and implementation of practical tools for wildlife conservation and management and to inspire novel behavioral research in this field.
Female clustering in cockroach aggregations – a case of social niche construction?Individuals in groups can suffer costs through interactions with adversarial or unknown conspecifics. Social niche construction allows individuals to buffer such potential costs by only engaging in preferred associations. This may be particularly beneficial in insect aggregations, which are often large and highly fluid. However, little is known regarding the structuring of such aggregations. Here we use social network analyses to test for fine-scale social structure in resting aggregations of the sub-social cockroach Diploptera punctata and to explore the social pressures that contribute towards such structure. We showed that females were significantly more gregarious than males and formed the core of the proximity network, thus demonstrating a higher level of social integration. This fine-scale structure is likely to result from females displacing males; females initiated most displacements whilst males received the majority. We explain this behaviour in terms of social niche construction by showing that females received significantly fewer approaches and investigations at more female-biased local sex ratios. We therefore suggest that female social clustering occurs in this, and presumably other, species to reduce potential costs associated with male harassment. This demonstrates how social niche construction can lead to higher level social structure; we suggest this approach could be used across a range of species in order to improve our understanding of the evolution of sociality.
Personality in the cockroach Diploptera punctata: Evidence for stability across developmental stages despite age effects on boldnessDespite a recent surge in the popularity of animal personality studies and their wide-ranging associations with various aspects of behavioural ecology, our understanding of the development of personality over ontogeny remains poorly understood. Stability over time is a central tenet of personality; ecological pressures experienced by an individual at different life stages may, however, vary considerably, which may have a significant effect on behavioural traits. Invertebrates often go through numerous discrete developmental stages and therefore provide a useful model for such research. Here we test for both differential consistency and age effects upon behavioural traits in the gregarious cockroach Diploptera punctata by testing the same behavioural traits in both juveniles and adults. In our sample, we find consistency in boldness, exploration and sociality within adults whilst only boldness was consistent in juveniles. Both boldness and exploration measures, representative of risk-taking behaviour, show significant consistency across discrete juvenile and adult stages. Age effects are, however, apparent in our data; juveniles are significantly bolder than adults, most likely due to differences in the ecological requirements of these life stages. Size also affects risk-taking behaviour since smaller adults are both bolder and more highly explorative. Whilst a behavioural syndrome linking boldness and exploration is evident in nymphs, this disappears by the adult stage, where links between other behavioural traits become apparent. Our results therefore indicate that differential consistency in personality can be maintained across life stages despite age effects on its magnitude, with links between some personality traits changing over ontogeny, demonstrating plasticity in behavioural syndromes.
Social stability in semiferal ponies: networks show interannual stability alongside seasonal flexibilityLong-term relationships that underlie many stable mammalian groups often occur between philopatric kin. Although stable groups of nonrelatives appear to be less common, there is increasing evidence that social bonds between nonkin may confer sufficient intrinsic fitness benefits for these groups to persist. Here we evaluate whether social stability occurs in a bisexually dispersing species where social bonds have been shown to have reproductive benefits: the feral horse, Equus caballus. First, we quantified female social stability by applying a three-level framework to a 3-year data set of associations in semiferal ponies; this tested for stability at the individual, dyadic and subpopulation levels. Despite the relative weakness of these female bonds, we found significant social stability across all levels, as shown by stable association preferences, social networks and individual network positions. Second, we investigated how seasonality impacts on social bond strength and grouping patterns. We found seasonal fluctuations in female gregariousness, with a peak during the mating season. We therefore propose that significant social stability in female horses is coupled with a degree of flexibility that allows for effects of ecological fluctuations. Although social network analysis is widely used in behavioural ecological research, this is one of only a handful of studies to assess the temporal dynamics of networks over a significant timescale. Temporal stability in female relationships suggests that equid social structures are multifaceted: although bonds between stallions and mares are clearly strong, long-term relationships between mares underpin the social network structure. We suggest this framework could be used to assess social stability in other group-living species in order to improve our understanding of the nature of social bonds.