Determining association networks in social animals: Choosing spatial-temporal criteria and sampling rates

Hamed Haddadi, Andrew J. King, Alison P. Wills, Damien Fay, John Lowe, A. Jennifer Morton, Stephen Hailes, Alan M. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)


Social Network Analysis has become an important methodological tool for advancing our understanding of human and animal group behaviour. However, researchers tend to rely on arbitrary distance and time measures when defining 'contacts' or 'associations' between individuals based on preliminary observation. Otherwise, criteria are chosen on the basis of the communication range of sensor devices (e. g. bluetooth communication ranges) or the sampling frequencies of collection devices (e. g. Global Positioning System devices). Thus, researchers lack an established protocol for determining both relevant association distances and minimum sampling rates required to accurately represent the network structure under investigation. In this paper, we demonstrate how researchers can use experimental and statistical methods to establish spatial and temporal association patterns and thus correctly characterise social networks in both time and space. To do this, we first perform a mixing experiment with Merino sheep (Ovis aries) and use a community detection algorithm that allows us to identify the spatial and temporal distance at which we can best identify clusters of previously familiar sheep. This turns out to be within 2-3 m of each other for at least 3 min. We then calculate the network graph entropy rate-a measure of ease of spreading of information (e. g. a disease) in a network-to determine the minimum sampling rate required to capture the variability observed in our sheep networks during distinct activity phases. Our results indicate the need for sampling intervals of less than a minute apart. The tools that we employ are versatile and could be applied to a wide range of species and social network datasets, thus allowing an increase in both the accuracy and efficiency of data collection when exploring spatial association patterns in gregarious species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1659-1668
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2011



  • Flocking
  • Sampling rate
  • Sheep
  • Social behaviour
  • Social networks
  • Spatial-temporal associations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

Cite this

Haddadi, H., King, A. J., Wills, A. P., Fay, D., Lowe, J., Morton, A. J., Hailes, S., & Wilson, A. M. (2011). Determining association networks in social animals: Choosing spatial-temporal criteria and sampling rates. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 65(8), 1659-1668.