Measuring social networks in primates: wearable sensors versus direct observations

Gelardi, V., Godard, J., Paleressompoulle, D., Claidiere, N., & Barrat, A. (2020). Measuring social networks in primates: wearable sensors versus direct observations. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 476(2236), 20190737. doi:10.1098/rspa.2019.0737

Abstract: Network analysis represents a valuable and flexible framework to understand the structure of individual interactions at the population level in animal societies. The versatility of network representations is moreover suited to different types of datasets describing these interactions. However, depending on the data collection method, different pictures of the social bonds between individuals could a priori emerge.

Understanding how the data collection method influences the description of the social structure of a group is thus essential to assess the reliability of social studies based on different types of data. This is however rarely feasible, especially for animal groups, where data collection is often challenging.

Here, we address this issue by comparing datasets of interactions between primates collected through two different methods: behavioural observations and wearable proximity sensors. We show that, although many directly observed interactions are not detected by the sensors, the global pictures obtained when aggregating the data to build interaction networks turn out to be remarkably similar. Moreover, sensor data yield a reliable social network over short time scales and can be used for long-term studies, showing their important potential for detailed studies of the evolution of animal social groups.