U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Animal Behaviour 83 (2012) 731-736; doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.12.021


For the majority of social species, group composition is dynamic, and individuals are interconnected in a heterogeneous social network. Social network structure has far-reaching implications for the ecology of individuals and populations. However, we have little understanding of how ecological variables shape this structure. We used a long-term data set (1984e2007) to examine the relationship between food availability and social network structure in the endangered southern resident killer whales. During the summer months individuals in this population feed primarily on chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, which show annual variation in abundance. We tested the hypothesis that temporal variation in chinook salmon will correlate with variation in social network structure. Using a null model that controlled for population demography, group size and sampling effort, we found a significant relationship between the connectivity of the social network and salmon abundance, with a more interconnected social network in years of high salmon abundance. Our results demonstrate that resource availability may be an important determinant of social network structure. Given the central importance of the social network for population processes such as the maintenance of cooperation and the transmission of information and disease, a change in social network structure caused by a change in food availability may have significant ecological and evolutionary consequences.