Spatial proximity loggers for recording animal social networks: consequences of inter-logger variation in performance


Social network analysis has become an increasingly popular method to link individual behaviour to population level patterns (and vice versa). Technological advances of recent years, such as the development of spatial proximity loggers, have enhanced our abilities to record contact patterns between animals. However, loggers are often deployed without calibration which may lead to sampling biases and spurious results. In particular, loggers may differ in their performance (i.e., some loggers may over-sample and other loggers may under-sample social associations). However, the consequences of inter-logger variation in logging performance has not been thoroughly considered or quantified. In this study, proximity loggers made by Sirtrack Ltd. were fitted to 20 dairy cows over a 3-week period. Contact records resulting from field deployment demonstrated variability in logger performance when recording contact duration, which was highly consistent for each logger over time. Testing loggers under standardised conditions suggested that inter-logger variation observed in the field was due to a combination of intrinsic variation in devices, and environmental/behavioural effects. We demonstrate the potential consequences that inter-logger variation in logging performance can have for social network analysis; particularly how measures of connectivity can be biased by logging performance. Finally, we suggest some approaches to correct data generated by proximity loggers with imperfect performance, that should be used to improve the robustness of future analyses.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. Böhm M, Hutchings MR, White PCL (2009) Contact networks in a wildlife-livestock host community: identifying high-risk individuals in the transmission of bovine TB among badgers and cattle. PLoS ONE 4:e5016

  2. Creech TG, Cross PC, Scurlock BM, Maichak EJ, Rogerson JD, Henningsen JC, Creel S (2012) Effects of low-density feeding on elk–fetus contact rates on Wyoming feedgrounds. J Wildl Manage 76:877–886

  3. Croft DP, James R, Krause J (2008) Exploring animal social networks. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

  4. Croft DP, Madden JR, Franks DW, James R (2011) Hypothesis testing in animal social networks. Trends Ecol Evol 26:502–507

  5. Cross P, Creech T, Ebinger M, Heisey D, Irvine K, Creel S (2012) Wildlife contact analysis: emerging methods, questions, and challenges. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66:1437–1447

  6. Drewe JA, Weber N, Carter SP, Bearhop S, Harrison XA, Dall SRX, McDonald RA, Delahay RJ (2012) Performance of proximity loggers in recording intra- and inter-species interactions: a laboratory and field-based validation study. PLoS ONE 7:e39068

  7. Goodman EL (2007) Quantifying interactions in a high-density badger (Meles meles) population. University of York, York

  8. Hamede RK, Bashford J, McCallum H, Jones M (2009) Contact networks in a wild Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) population: using social network analysis to reveal seasonal variability in social behaviour and its implications for transmission of devil facial tumour disease. Ecol Lett 12:1147–1157

  9. Hanneman RA, Riddle M (2005) Introduction to social network methods.

  10. Hinde RA (1976) Interactions, relationships and social structure. Man 11:1–17

  11. Hood GM (2010) PopTools version 3.2.5.

  12. Ji W, White PCL, Clout MN (2005) Contact rates between possums revealed by proximity data loggers. J Appl Ecol 42:595–604

  13. Krause J, Croft DP, James R (2007) Social network theory in the behavioural sciences: potential applications. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:15–27

  14. Krause J, Wilson A, Croft DP (2011) New technology facilitates the study of social networks. Trends Ecol Evol 26:5

  15. Marin A, Wellman B (2011) Social network analysis: An introduction. In: The SAGE handbook of social network analysis. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

  16. Marsh M, Hutchings M, McLeod S, White P (2011a) Spatial and temporal heterogeneities in the contact behaviour of rabbits. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65:183–195

  17. Marsh MK, McLeod SR, Hutchings MR, White PCL (2011b) Use of proximity loggers and network analysis to quantify social interactions in free-ranging wild rabbit populations. Wildlife Res 38:1–12

  18. Nakagawa S, Schielzeth H (2010) Repeatability for Gaussian and non-Gaussian data: a practical guide for biologists. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 85:935–956

  19. Patison KP, Swain DL, Bishop-Hurley GJ, Robins G, Pattison P, Reid DJ (2010) Changes in temporal and spatial associations between pairs of cattle during the process of familiarisation. Appl Anim Behav Sci 128:10–17

  20. Prange S, Jordan T, Hunter C, Gehrt SD (2006) New radiocollars for the detection of proximity among individuals. Wildlife Soc Bull 34:1333–1344

  21. Rutz C, Burns ZT, James R, Ismar SMH, Burt J, Otis B, Bowen J, St Clair JJH (2012) Automated mapping of social networks in wild birds. Curr Biol 22:R669–R671

  22. Ryder TB, Horton BM, van den Tillaart M, Morales JDD, Moore IT (2012) Proximity data-loggers increase the quantity and quality of social network data. Biol Lett 8:917–920

  23. Schuett W, Dall SRX, Baeumer J, Kloesener MH, Nakagawa S, Beinlich F, Eggers T (2011) Personality variation in a clonal insect: the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Dev Psychobiol 53:631–640

  24. Sih A, Hanser SF, McHugh KA (2009) Social network theory: new insights and issues for behavioral ecologists. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 63:975–988

  25. Swain DL, Bishop-Hurley GJ (2007) Using contact logging devices to explore animal affiliations: quantifying cow–calf interactions. Appl Anim Behav Sci 102:1–11

  26. Tambling CJ, Belton LE (2009) Feasibility of using proximity tags to locate female lion Panthera leo kills. Wildlife Biol 15:435–441

  27. Walrath R, Van Deelen TR, VerCauteren KC (2011) Efficacy of proximity loggers for detection of contacts between maternal pairs of white-tailed deer. Wildlife Soc Bull 35:452–460

  28. Wey T, Blumstein DT, Shen W, Jordan F (2008) Social network analysis of animal behaviour: a promising tool for the study of sociality. Anim Behav 75:333–344

  29. Whitehead H (2008) Analyzing animal societies: quantitative methods for vertebrate social analysis. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

  30. Whitehead H, Dufault S (1999) Techniques for analyzing vertebrate social structure using identified individuals: review and recommendations. Adv Stud Behav 28:33–74

Download references


We thank David Snell and family for access to their cattle and assistance in logger deployment. Safi Darden, Julian Drewe, Nicola Weber and Christian Rutz for helpful discussion, and Mat Edenbrow for advice on repeatability tests. This work was funded by DairyCo, Defra and the University of Exeter.

Ethical standards

The experiments in this study comply with current laws and ethical standards in the UK.

Author information

Correspondence to D. P. Croft.

Additional information

Communicated by L. Z. Garamszegi

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Boyland, N.K., James, R., Mlynski, D.T. et al. Spatial proximity loggers for recording animal social networks: consequences of inter-logger variation in performance. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1877–1890 (2013) doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1622-6

Download citation


  • Loggers
  • Animal social networks
  • Proximity