The study of aggression and affiliation motifs in bottlenose dolphins' social networks

Ana Pérez-Manrique1, Juan Fernández-Gracia2, Antoni Gomila1 and José J. Ramasco2

1Human Evolution and Cognition Research Group (EvoCog), Psychology Department, University of the Balearic Islands, 07122 Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
2Instituto de Física Interdisciplinar y Sistemas Complejos IFISC (CSIC-UIB), 07122 Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

(Nov 2022)

Networks in biology have provided a powerful tool to describe and study very complex biological processes and systems such as animal societies. Social network analysis allows us to assess different processes occurring in animal groups. In the current study, we use this approach to investigate how conflict dynamics and post-conflict interactions shape the social networks of groups of captive bottlenose dolphins. We first examined temporal changes and aggression-affiliation motifs in the observed dolphins' network structure. Using the results of the previous analysis, we built two models that simulate the dynamics of aggression and affiliation in a small dolphin group. The first model is based only on the observed statistics of interactions, whereas the second includes post conflict memory effects as well. We found that the resulting social networks and their most common motifs matched the association patterns observed in wild and captive dolphins. Furthermore, the model with memory was able to capture the observed dynamics of this group of dolphins. Thus, our models suggest the presence and influence of post-conflict behaviors on the structure of captive dolphins' social networks. Therefore, the network approach reveals as an effective method to define animal social networks and study animal sociality. Finally, this approach can have important applications in the management of animal populations in captive settings.