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Social networks in animal societies: a step forward in understanding the effects of human pressures on wildlife with limited sample size availability

22 settembre 2023
11:00 am
San Francesco Complex - Sagrestia

The increase in anthropogenic footprint on both urban and non-urban settings has significant effects on wild animals’ natural behaviour. Social network analysis is an excellent tool that can help us study the effect of human pressures on wildlife social behaviour, dynamical processes and disease transmission. The reliability of estimates obtained through social network analysis, however, are susceptible to the proportion of individual sampled compared to the whole population size. This becomes problematic when studying animal social networks since is mostly unfeasible to track full populations. The aim of this study is to understand the reliability of social network metrics when using a subsample of a wildlife population, and the ability of population subsets to capture ecological responses to human disturbances similarly to the entire population. We carried out social network analysis in two wildlife populations living in very different ecological settings: fallow deer in an urban park (Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland) and giraffe in the Namib desert (northwest Namibia). Both populations have most of the individuals individually recognizable (i.e., ear tags and pelage patterns, respectively). We found that metrics are not reliable at depicting ecological differences of wildlife population structures when a small fraction of the entire population is monitored. These findings show how network metrics might not be a good method for estimating social network metrics from population subsets and depict how human perturbations affect animal social behaviour and disease spread. We believe new and more reliable methodologies are needed to improve management and conservation strategies accordingly.


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Kimberly Conteddu, University College Dublin