Animals ‘Inherit’ Their Social Network From Their Mothers

June 26, 2016

In a newly published study in the journal Nature Communications, Erol Akçay, an assistant professor of biology, and Amiyaal Ilany, a postdoctoral researcher, developed a mathematical model of the way social networks arise in animal populations. Their model considers the likelihood that a newborn forms connections with its mother’s connections or other individuals not connected to its mother, with the assumption that an individual is more likely to connect with those connected with its mother.

Though relatively simple, their model generated networks that faithfully recapitulated important properties of networks observed in field-collected data from four very different animal populations: spotted hyenas, sleep lizards, rock hyrax, and bottlenose dolphins.

“What we show,” says Akçay, “is that we can fit this simple model to real-life networks and capture their degree distribution, or how connected everyone is, and, more strikingly, we can also capture the distribution of what’s known as the clustering coefficient, which measures how cliquish the population is.”

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