Disentangling social networks from spatiotemporal dynamics: the temporal structure of a dolphin society
Social networks are static illustrations of dynamic societies, within which social interactions are constantly changing. Fundamental sources of variation include ranging behaviour and temporal demographic changes. Spatiotemporal dynamics can favour or limit opportunities for individuals to interact, and then a network may not essentially represent social processes. We examined whether a social network can embed such nonsocial effects in its topology, whereby emerging modules depict spatially or temporally segregated individuals. To this end, we applied a combination of spatial, temporal and demographic analyses to a long-term study of the association patterns of Guiana dolphins, Sotalia guianensis. We found that association patterns are organized into a modular social network. Space use was unlikely to reflect these modules, since dolphins' ranging behaviour clearly overlapped. However, a temporal demographic turnover, caused by the exit/entrance of individuals (most likely emigration/immigration), defined three modules of associations occurring at different times. Although this factor could mask real social processes, we identified the temporal scale that allowed us to account for these demographic effects. By looking within this turnover period (32 months), we assessed fission–fusion dynamics of the poorly known social organization of Guiana dolphins. We highlight that spatiotemporal dynamics can strongly influence the structure of social networks. Our findings show that hypothetical social units can emerge due to the temporal opportunities for individuals to interact. Therefore, a thorough search for a satisfactory spatiotemporal scale that removes such nonsocial noise is critical when analysing a social system. âº Social networks are static illustrations of societies that are constantly changing. âº The spatiotemporal dynamics can define opportunities for individuals to interact. âº We examined whether modular networks can depict spatially or temporally segregated dolphins. âº A demographic turnover defined modules of individuals associating at different times. âº Therefore, determining spatiotemporal scales that remove nonsocial noise is critical when analysing social systems.