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Social networks and the formation and maintenance of river otter groups

TitleSocial networks and the formation and maintenance of river otter groups
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsHansen, H, McDonald, DB, Groves, P, Maier, JAK, Ben-David, M

Many studies have evaluated why male mammals form social groups; few however have investigated how these groups are formed and maintained. We observed behavioral interactions of 15 male river otters (Lontra canadensis) captured in Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska, and held in captivity for 10 mo. Because the otters were captured in various areas and differed in age and relatedness, we were able to test how kinship and age influenced social interactions. We also explored howkinship, age and social interactions in captivity related to geographic spacing after the otters were released back in PWS. In 284 h of observations, the otters exhibited more positive than negative interactions. Social network models indicated that in the early stage of captivity, there were more links among individuals than in the late stage. In the late-stage period, older animals that had higher testosterone levels exhibited increased social distance and lower information centrality (a network connectivity metric). Social distance was not related to genetic distance, nor did it relate directly to age, although both social distance and age were correlated with post-release geographic distance. Thus, the formation of male groups in coastal river otters is largely influenced byfamiliarity and past experience, rather than kinship. The maintenance of groups, especially during the mating season, is a function of reproductive status and age, with older animals withdrawing from the social network during that time. What other phenotypic characters may contribute to the formation and maintenance of river otter groups merit future exploration.

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