Resource availability influences global social network properties in Gunnison’s prairie dogs (Cynomys gunnisoni)

In: Behaviour
Ferenc JordánBalaton Limnological Institute, Centre for Ecological Research, Tihany, Hungary
Evolutionary Systems Research Group, Centre for Ecological Research, Tihany, Hungary

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Bálint KovácsLoránd Eötvös University, Budapest, Hungary

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Jennifer L. VerdolinSchool of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

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Increasingly we are discovering that the interactions between individuals within social groups can be quite complex and flexible. Social network analysis offers a toolkit to describe and quantify social structure, the patterns we observe, and evaluate the social and environmental factors that shape group dynamics. Here, we used 14 Gunnison’s prairie dogs networks to evaluate how resource availability and network size influenced four global properties of the networks (centralization, clustering, average path length, small word index). Our results suggest a positive correlation between overall network cohesion and resource availability, such that networks became less centralized and cliquish as biomass/m2 availability decreased. We also discovered that network size modulates the link between social interactions and resource availability and is consistent with a more ‘decentralized’ group. This study highlights the importance of how individuals modify social cohesions and network connectedness as a way to reduce intragroup competition under different ecological conditions.

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