African forest elephant social networks: Fission-fusion dynamics, but fewer associations



Schuttler SG, Whittaker A, Jeffery KJ & Eggert LS (2014) African forest elephant social networks: Fission-fusion dynamics, but fewer associations. Endangered Species Research, 25 (2), pp. 165-173.

For animal species with dynamic interactions, understanding social patterns can be difficult. Social network analysis quantifies associations and their intensity between individuals within a population, revealing the overall patterns of the society. We used networks to test the hypothesis that the elusive African forest elephantLoxodonta cyclotisexhibits fission-fusion social dynamics, similar to other elephant species. We observed associations between individuals in savanna clearings in Lopé National Park, Gabon, in 2006, 2008, and 2010. When possible, dung was collected from individuals for genetic analyses using 10 microsatellite loci and the mitochondrial DNA control region. Using simple ratio association indices, networks were created for each year, wet and dry seasons, individuals detected at least twice, and for all females. We identified 118 unique adult females, for 40 of which we obtained genetic information. Networks had low densities, many disconnected components, short average path lengths, and high clustering coefficients. Within components, average relatedness was 0.093 ± 0.071 (SD) and females appeared to share mitochondrial haplotypes. We detected 1 large component consisting of 22 adult females, but there were few preferred associations (8 of 65, 12.3%). No seasonal or yearly differences were observed. Our results substantiate fission-fusion dynamics in forest elephants; however, the networks are more disconnected than those for other elephant species, possibly due to poaching and ecological constraints in the forest environment.

Social networks; Social structure; Loxodonta cyclotis; Fission-fusion; Elephants

Endangered Species Research: Volume 25, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2014
Publication date online19/09/2014
Date accepted by journal21/05/2014

People (1)


Ms Kathryn Jeffery
Ms Kathryn Jeffery

Research Fellow, Biological and Environmental Sciences