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Cody Dey, Q.Y. J Tan, Constance O'Connor, Adam Reddon, J. R Caldwell, and Sigal Balshine (2015)

Dominance network structure across reproductive contexts in the cooperatively breeding cichlid fish, Neolamprologus pulcher

Current Zoology, 61(1):45-54.

While a large number of studies in behavioural ecology have described animal social networks, we have a relatively poor understanding of how these networks vary with ecological and social conditions. For example, reproductive periods are an important life-history stage that may involve changes in dominance relationships among individuals, yet no study to date has compared social networks of dominance interactions (i.e. dominance networks) across reproductive contexts. We analyzed a long-term dataset on captive social groups of the cooperatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, and found that eviction events were significantly more common around reproduction than expected by chance. Next, we compared the structure of dominance networks during early parental care and non-reproductive periods using one of the first applications of exponential random graph models in behavioural biology. Contrary to our predictions, we found that dominance networks showed few changes between these life-history stages. We found no evidence that dominance interactions became more skewed towards larger individuals, became more frequent between similar-sized individuals, or became more biased towards a particular sex during early parental care. However, we did find that there were relatively fewer dominance interactions between same sex dyads in the early parental care period, which may be a by-product of increased sexual interactions during this time. This is the first study in behavioural ecology to compare social networks using exponential random graph modeling, and demonstrates a powerful analytical framework for future studies in the field