THE PREDICTORS AND CONSEQUENCES OF INDIVIDUAL VARIATION IN SOCIALITY IN BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOGS (CYNOMYS LUDOVICIANUS)
Kusch, Jillian Marie 1990-
Sociality describes the organization of members of a species in a group to maximize fitness. It is thought to evolve when the benefits of existing in social groups outweigh the costs. Typically, these costs and benefits are generalized to the species or population level and not at the level of the individual, where the decisions and the consequences of those decisions regarding sociality often resides. Social network analysis (SNA) provides a tool to test hypotheses to identify variation in sociality at an individual level, as well as the potential trade-offs associated with this variation in sociality, which may change across time. In many SNA studies, the temporal variation of the cost/benefit structure is often ignored. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) live in highly social colonies and display an elaborate range of social behaviours. Previous research had indicated that individuals live in sub-community structures called coteries, containing one breeding male and a harem of females. The social structure of this species dramatically shifts during the reproductive period. As prairie dogs have this shift in sociality, it is the best time to investigate these potential trade-offs. I constructed social networks of members of a prairie dog colony from the northern limit of their range, in southern Saskatchewan through behavioural observation and examined correlates of variation in sociality between and within individuals (across time). I compared sociality between two seasons that greatly differed in their importance for reproductive success. I determined that better body condition enabled individuals to maintain social stability over time. Furthermore, individual prairie dogs vary their level of sociality over the year, presumably to optimize individual fitness. Reproductive females decrease their sociality during the breeding period to maximize foraging time and availability for defense of their litter, while reproductive males increase their aggressive interactions to defend the home range and resources their coterie females require for foraging. I found that females that maintained affiliative social connections within their own coterie had higher reproductive success than those connecting adjacent coteries, while variation in frequency of agonistic connections did not correlate with reproductive success. This research improves the understanding of the utility of SNA for wild populations through examining acute behavioural shifts and using new temporal methodologies previously unused in wild populations.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
CommitteeClark, Robert; McLoughlin, Philip; Waterman, Jane; Benson, James
Copyright DateJune 2018
black-tailed prairie dogs
social network analysis