Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 7, pp 967–973 | Cite as

Animal social networks: an introduction

  • Jens KrauseEmail author
  • David Lusseau
  • Richard James


Network analysis has a long history in the mathematical and social sciences and the aim of this introduction is to provide a brief overview of the potential that it holds for the study of animal behaviour. One of the most attractive features of the network paradigm is that it provides a single conceptual framework with which we can study the social organisation of animals at all levels (individual, dyad, group, population) and for all types of interaction (aggressive, cooperative, sexual etc.). Graphical tools allow a visual inspection of networks which often helps inspire ideas for testable hypotheses. Network analysis itself provides a multitude of novel statistical tools that can be used to characterise social patterns in animal populations. Among the important insights that networks have facilitated is that indirect social connections matter. Interactions between individuals generate a social environment at the population level which in turn selects for behavioural strategies at the individual level. A social network is often a perfect means by which to represent heterogeneous relationships in a population. Probing the biological drivers for these heterogeneities, often as a function of time, forms the basis of many of the current uses of network analysis in the behavioural sciences. This special issue on social networks brings together a diverse group of practitioners whose study systems range from social insects over reptiles to birds, cetaceans, ungulates and primates in order to illustrate the wide-ranging applications of network analysis.


Social networks Animal interactions Social organisation 



We would like to thank everyone who took part in the IEC symposium on Animal Social Networks in Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 2007, as well as Darren Croft, David McDonald and Dhruba Naug for stimulating discussions. JK acknowledges financial support from the NERC (NE/D011035/1) and the EPSRC (GR/T11241/01(P)).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Integrative and Comparative BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.Institute of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  3. 3.Department of PhysicsUniversity of BathBathUK

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