Matching Items (3)

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Social snakes?: non-random association patterns detected in a population of Arizona black rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerberus)

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Social structure affects many aspects of ecology including mating systems, dispersal, and movements. The quality and pattern of associations among individuals can define social structure, thus detailed behavioral observations are

Social structure affects many aspects of ecology including mating systems, dispersal, and movements. The quality and pattern of associations among individuals can define social structure, thus detailed behavioral observations are vital to understanding species social structure and many other aspects of their ecology. In squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes), detailed observations of associations among individuals have been primarily limited to several lineages of lizards and have revealed a variety of social structures, including polygynous family group-living and monogamous pair-living. Here I describe the social structure of two communities within a population of Arizona black rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerberus) using association indices and social network analysis. I used remote timelapse cameras to semi-continuously sample rattlesnake behavior at communal basking sites during early April through mid-May in 2011 and 2012. I calculated an association index for each dyad (proportion of time they spent together) and used these indices to construct a weighted, undirected social network for each community. I found that individual C. cerberus vary in their tendency to form associations and are selective about with whom they associate. Some individuals preferred to be alone or in small groups while others preferred to be in large groups. Overall, rattlesnakes exhibited non-random association patterns, and this result was mainly driven by association selection of adults. Adults had greater association strengths and were more likely to have limited and selected associates. I identified eight subgroups within the two communities (five in one, three in the other), all of which contained adults and juveniles. My study is the first to show selected associations among individual snakes, but to my knowledge it is also the first to use association indices and social network analysis to examine association patterns among snakes. When these methods are applied to other snake species that aggregate, I anticipate the `discovery' of similar social structures.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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A novel approach to study task organization in animal groups

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A key factor in the success of social animals is their organization of work. Mathematical models have been instrumental in unraveling how simple, individual-based rules can generate collective patterns via

A key factor in the success of social animals is their organization of work. Mathematical models have been instrumental in unraveling how simple, individual-based rules can generate collective patterns via self-organization. However, existing models offer limited insights into how these patterns are shaped by behavioral differences within groups, in part because they focus on analyzing specific rules rather than general mechanisms that can explain behavior at the individual-level. My work argues for a more principled approach that focuses on the question of how individuals make decisions in costly environments.

In Chapters 2 and 3, I demonstrate how this approach provides novel insights into factors that shape the flexibility and robustness of task organization in harvester ant colonies (Pogonomyrmex barbatus). My results show that the degree to which colonies can respond to work in fluctuating environments depends on how individuals weigh the costs of activity and update their behavior in response to social information. In Chapter 4, I introduce a mathematical framework to study the emergence of collective organization in heterogenous groups. My approach, which is based on the theory of multi-agent systems, focuses on myopic agents whose behavior emerges out of an independent valuation of alternative choices in a given work environment. The product of this dynamic is an equilibrium organization in which agents perform different tasks (or abstain from work) with an analytically defined set of threshold probabilities. The framework is minimally developed, but can be extended to include other factors known to affect task decisions including individual experience and social facilitation. This research contributes a novel approach to developing (and analyzing) models of task organization that can be applied in a broader range of contexts where animals cooperate.

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Date Created
  • 2016

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Modeling the origins of primate sociality: kin recognition in mouse lemurs

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Arguments of human uniqueness emphasize our complex sociality, unusual cognitive capacities, and language skills, but the timing of the origin of these abilities and their evolutionary causes remain unsolved. Though

Arguments of human uniqueness emphasize our complex sociality, unusual cognitive capacities, and language skills, but the timing of the origin of these abilities and their evolutionary causes remain unsolved. Though not unique to primates, kin-biased sociality was key to the success of the primate order. In contrast to ancestral solitary mammals, the earliest primates are thought to have maintained dispersed (non-group living) social networks, communicating over distances via vocalizations and scent marks. If such ancestral primates recognized kin, those networks may have facilitated the evolution of kin-biased sociality in the primate order and created selection for increased cognitive and communicative abilities. I used the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) to model whether vocalizations could have facilitated matrilineal and patrilineal kin recognition in ancestral primates. Much like mouse lemurs today, ancestral primates are thought to have been small-bodied, nocturnal creatures that captured insects and foraged for fruit in the thin, terminal ends of tree branches. Thus, the mouse lemur is an excellent model species because its ecological niche is likely to be similar to that of ancestral primates 55-90 million years ago. I conducted playback experiments in Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar testing whether mouse lemur agonistic calls contain matrilineal kin signatures and whether the lemurs recognize matrilineal kin. In contrast to large-brained, socially complex monkeys with frequent coalitionary behavior, mouse lemurs did not react differently to the agonistic calls of matrilineal kin and nonkin, though moderate signatures were present in the calls. I tested for patrilineal signatures and patrilineal kin recognition via mating and alarm calls in a colony with known pedigree relationships. The results are the first to demonstrate that a nocturnal, solitary foraging mammal gives mating calls with patrilineal signatures and recognizes patrilineal kin. Interestingly, alarm calls did not have signatures and did not facilitate kin recognition, suggesting that selection for kin recognition is stronger in some call types than others. As this dissertation is the first investigation of vocal kin recognition in a dispersed-living, nocturnal strepsirrhine primate, it greatly advances our knowledge of the role of vocal communication in the evolution of primate social complexity.

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  • 2014