Animal Social Networks
Animal groups can be conceptualized as a social network in which individuals are depicted as nodes and the connections between them represent some form of social relationship (Hasenjager & Dugatkin, 2015). The structural and temporal organization of such networks—that is, the patterns of connectivity and how these change over time—can have important consequences for processes that occur within them. For example, stable social ties can promote cooperative relationships (Hasenjager, 2016), while information or disease might spread primarily within (rather than between) tightly-knit communities. My current and recent research has focused on the factors that shape social network structure and the resulting consequences for social processes.
Social and ecological drivers of network structure and function
My doctoral work, conducted at the University of Louisville, examined how variation in group composition and predation risk impacted the social network structure of Trinidadian guppy shoals (Poecilia reticulata) and the spread of foraging information within them. Group composition was manipulated in terms of both within-group familiarity (Hasenjager & Dugatkin, 2017a) and individual personality (Hasenjager & Dugatkin, in prep). We found in both cases that increased diversity in group composition was associated with a more rapid spread of foraging information (e.g., the solution to a novel foraging task), potentially as a result of dissimilar individuals shaping group-level outcomes in complementary ways. In a third experiment, we found that high background levels of predation drove the formation of network structures likely to reduce individual predation risk (e.g., stronger connections to phenotypically similar individuals), but also inhibited the uptake and subsequent spread of novel information (Hasenjager & Dugatkin, 2017b). Taken together, this work sheds light on the responsiveness of social networks to local ecological conditions.
The ecological function of honeybee communication network
The honeybee (Apis mellifera) dance language is a highly celebrated example of animal communication. Successful foragers can transmit information about the presence, quality, and location of resources to colony members via the orientation, duration, and rate of dancing. However, dancing is just one of multiple communication pathways within honeybee colonies. Bees can learn associations between floral odors and nectar rewards through trophallactic food donations from successful foragers or by detecting odors on the forager’s body. In addition, whether or not a forager has prior information about profitable food sources impacts what information is gained during these interactions. Under an ERC grant awarded to Dr. Elli Leadbeater, I am currently examining how these alternative communication networks interact during collective foraging under varying ecological conditions. In this way, we hope to better understand how evolution has shaped these information transfer mechanisms and their functional significance for colony outcomes.