The role of social and ecological processes in structuring animal populations: a case study from automated tracking of wild birds.
Farine DR., Firth JA., Aplin LM., Crates RA., Culina A., Garroway CJ., Hinde CA., Kidd LR., Milligan ND., Psorakis I., Radersma R., Verhelst B., Voelkl B., Sheldon BC.
Both social and ecological factors influence population process and structure, with resultant consequences for phenotypic selection on individuals. Understanding the scale and relative contribution of these two factors is thus a central aim in evolutionary ecology. In this study, we develop a framework using null models to identify the social and spatial patterns that contribute to phenotypic structure in a wild population of songbirds. We used automated technologies to track 1053 individuals that formed 73 737 groups from which we inferred a social network. Our framework identified that both social and spatial drivers contributed to assortment in the network. In particular, groups had a more even sex ratio than expected and exhibited a consistent age structure that suggested local association preferences, such as preferential attachment or avoidance. By contrast, recent immigrants were spatially partitioned from locally born individuals, suggesting differential dispersal strategies by phenotype. Our results highlight how different scales of social decision-making, ranging from post-natal dispersal settlement to fission-fusion dynamics, can interact to drive phenotypic structure in animal populations.