Interspecific social networks promote information transmission in wild songbirds.
Farine DR., Aplin LM., Sheldon BC., Hoppitt W.
Understanding the functional links between social structure and population processes is a central aim of evolutionary ecology. Multiple types of interactions can be represented by networks drawn for the same population, such as kinship, dominance or affiliative networks, but the relative importance of alternative networks in modulating population processes may not be clear. We illustrate this problem, and a solution, by developing a framework for testing the importance of different types of association in facilitating the transmission of information. We apply this framework to experimental data from wild songbirds that form mixed-species flocks, recording the arrival (patch discovery) of individuals to novel foraging sites. We tested whether intraspecific and interspecific social networks predicted the spread of information about novel food sites, and found that both contributed to transmission. The likelihood of acquiring information per unit of connection to knowledgeable individuals increased 22-fold for conspecifics, and 12-fold for heterospecifics. We also found that species varied in how much information they produced, suggesting that some species play a keystone role in winter foraging flocks. More generally, these analyses demonstrate that this method provides a powerful approach, using social networks to quantify the relative transmission rates across different social relationships.