, Volume 65, Issue 10, pp 1857-1871
Date: 26 Apr 2011

The social network structure of a wild meerkat population: 3. Position of individuals within networks

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Individuals in social groups interact with numerous other group members in a polyadic network. Interactions can depend on the individual's own attributes (age, sex, status etc.), on their partner's attributes, and the group's network of social interactions. Previous studies tend to look at a subset of dyadic interactions, focusing on particular classes of individuals. We used social network analysis to explore how an individual wild meerkat's (Suricata suricatta) attributes related to their positions in three different interaction networks (grooming, dominance interactions, and foraging competitions) across eight groups. We asked whether individuals within groups associated assortatively and whether individuals with similar attributes occupied similar network positions. Differences in an individual's attributes did not consistently influence association patterns across different interaction network types. However, within network types, some attributes were especially influential across all groups. Grooming networks revealed negative assortativity by age and mass. Dominance networks revealed dominant–subordinate associations and high assortativity between males. Dominant individuals exhibited higher levels of dominance interactions and were aggressive to more different individuals than subordinates. Heavier individuals received higher levels of dominance interactions. Foraging competition networks revealed that younger and lighter individuals received higher overall levels of competitions and from more group members. Our observations were similar to focused studies on dyadic interactions but also revealed subtle differences. Future descriptions of social interactions should account for networks of social interactions occurring within a group and should be cautious about treating individuals with similar attributes as functionally similar with respect to their position within a social network.

Communicated by J. Krause