Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



PNAS 2023 Vol. 120 No. 32 e2219939120


Used by permission.


Animal social interactions have an intrinsic spatial basis as many of these interactions occur in spatial proximity. This presents a dilemma when determining causality: Do individuals interact socially because they happen to share space, or do they share space because they are socially linked? We present a method that uses demographic turnover events as a natural experiment to investigate the links between social associations and space use in the context of interannual winter site fidelity in a migratory bird. We previously found that golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) show consistent flocking relationships across years, and that familiarity between individuals influences the dynamics of social competition over resources. Using long-term data on winter social and spatial behavior across 10 y, we show that i) sparrows exhibit interannual fidelity to winter home ranges on the scale of tens of meters and ii) the precision of interannual site fidelity increases with the number of winters spent, but iii) this fidelity is weakened when sparrows lose close flockmates from the previous year. Furthermore, the effect of flockmate loss on site fidelity was higher for birds that had returned in more than 2 winters, suggesting that social fidelity may play an increasingly important role on spatial behavior across the lifetime of this migratory bird. Our study provides evidence that social relationships can influence site fidelity, and shows the potential of long-term studies for disentangling the relationship between social and spatial behavior.

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