Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Bangal, P., Sridhar, H., Shizuka, D., Vander Meiden, L. N., & Shanker, K. (2021). Flock-species richness influences node importance and modularity in mixed-species flock networks. Oecologia, 1-10.


Copyright © 2021 by the Authors, under exclusive license to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Used by permission.


Interdependencies in social groups of animals are a combination of multiple pairwise interactions. Heterospecific groups are often characterized by important species that contribute more to group initiation, maintenance or function than other species. However, in large heterospecific groups, many pairwise interactions are not realised, while others may not be biologically significant, confounding inferences about species importance. Hence, in this study, we examine context dependent changes in species importance and assortment in mixed-species bird flocks from a tropical field site in Southern India using social network analysis. Specifically, we ask how the structural importance of a species and the clustering patterns of species relationships depends on species richness in mixed-species flocks. We constructed both raw and filtered networks; while our results are largely correlated, we believe that filtered networks can provide insights into community-level importance of species in mixed-flocks while raw networks depict flock-level patterns. We find significant differences in flocks of different richness in that different species emerge as structurally important across flocks of varying richness. We also find that assortment is higher in two-species flocks and decreases with an increase in the number of species in the flock (‘flock richness’ hereafter). We argue that the link between structural importance of species in mixed-species flock networks and their functional significance in the community critically depends on the social context: namely, the species richness of the mixed-species flock. We propose that examining species structural importance at different flock-richness values provides insights into biologically meaningful functional roles of species. More generally, we suggest that it is important to consider context when interpreting species centrality and importance in network structure.