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Research Article

The application of social network theory to animal behaviour

Amelia Coleing

University of Chester


29 Sept 2008


23 Jan 2009


3 Mar 2009






social networks, animal social behaviour


Social network analysis (SNA) is a mathematical technique for analysing social relationships and the patterns and implications of these relationships (Wasserman S, Faust K (1994) Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). It has only recently been discovered by behavioural biologists as a useful tool in the study of animal behaviour (Wey T, Blumstein DT, Shen W et al. (2008) Social network analysis of animal behaviour: a promising tool for the study of sociality. Anim Behav 75: 333–344). Video recording over a 2 month period was used to record the behaviour of the elephant group at Chester Zoo. SNA was applied in an investigation of the group structure and interactions of the group. Observations of individual and group behaviour were based upon 40 h of playback of the social interactions were recorded and analysed using AGNA (2003) and Pajek (2005) packages. The analysis showed that the many facets of individual behaviour could be understood in terms of social structure of the group. This study has demonstrated that SNA is a powerful approach to understanding group dynamics and is particularly applicable to the study of obligate social species. In conclusion, it is suggested that SNA is potentially a useful tool in the management of captive animal populations.

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