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Analysing age structure, residency and relatedness uncovers social network structure in aggregations of young birds

Animal Behaviour

Published in: Animal Behaviour

Authors: Victoria R. Franks, John G. Ewen, Mhairi McCready, J. Marcus Rowcliffe, Donal Smith and Rose Thorogood


Animal sociality arises from the cumulative effects of both individual social decisions and environmental factors. While juveniles’ social interactions with parents prior to independence shape later life sociality, in most bird and mammal species at least one sex undergoes an early life dispersal before first-year reproduction. The social associations from this period could also have implications for later life yet are rarely characterized. Here, we derived predictions from available examples of juvenile groups in the literature (mobile ‘flocks’, spatially stable ‘gangs’ or adult-associated ‘creches’) and then used three cohorts of juvenile hihi, Notiomystis cincta, a threatened New Zealand passerine, to demonstrate how multistate modelling and social network analysis approaches can be used to characterize group type based on residency, movement, relatedness and social associations. At sites where hihi congregated, we found that juveniles were resighted at a higher frequency than adults and associated predominantly with unrelated juveniles rather than siblings or parents. Movement between group sites occurred, but associations developed predominantly within the sites. We suggest therefore that juvenile hihi social structure is most similar to a ‘gang’, a group structure in which juveniles congregate without adults at predictable sites. Such gangs have previously only been described formally in ravens, Corvus corax. By combining spatial and social network analyses, our study demonstrates how social group structures can be described and therefore facilitate broader comparisons and discussion about the form and function of juvenile groups across taxa.

You can access the paper here.

Written by Dr John Ewen

I have been interested and working with hihi since I was involved with establishing the Tiritiri Matangi island population through translocation in 1995. I am now employed as a Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London and have been here since 2004. My research is multi-disciplinary and focusses on small population biology and management. I use decision science to assist in planning hihi management and drive our applied research with this species and have experience in molecular and behavioural ecology, wildlife health and nutrition and reintroduction biology.


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