Social carry-over effects underpin trans-seasonally linked structure in a wild bird population.
Firth JA., Sheldon BC.
Spatial structure underpins numerous population processes by determining the environment individuals' experience and which other individuals they encounter. Yet, how the social landscape influences individuals' spatial decisions remains largely unexplored. Wild great tits (Parus major) form freely moving winter flocks, but choose a single location to establish a breeding territory over the spring. We demonstrate that individuals' winter social associations carry-over into their subsequent spatial decisions, as individuals breed nearer to those they were most associated with during winter. Further, they also form territory boundaries with their closest winter associates, irrespective of breeding distance. These findings were consistent across years, and among all demographic classes, suggesting that such social carry-over effects may be general. Thus, prior social structure can shape the spatial proximity, and fine-scale arrangement, of breeding individuals. In this way, social networks can influence a wide range of processes linked to individuals' breeding locations, including other social interactions themselves.