Recent technological advances, such as proximity loggers, allow researchers to collect complete interaction histories, day and night, among sampled individuals over several months to years. Social network analyses are an obvious approach to analyzing interaction data because of their flexibility for fitting many different social structures as well as the ability to assess both direct contacts and indirect associations via intermediaries. For many network properties, however, it is not clear whether estimates based upon a sample of the network are reflective of the entire network. In wildlife applications, networks may be poorly sampled and boundary effects will be common. We present an alternative approach that utilizes a hierarchical modeling framework to assess the individual, dyadic, and environmental factors contributing to variation in the interaction rates and allows us to estimate the underlying process variation in each. In a disease control context, this approach will allow managers to focus efforts on those types of individuals and environments that contribute the most toward super-spreading events. We account for the sampling distribution of proximity loggers and the non-independence of contacts among groups by only using contact data within a group during days when the group membership of proximity loggers was known. This allows us to separate the two mechanisms responsible for a pair not contacting one another: they were not in the same group or they were in the same group but did not come within the specified contact distance. We illustrate our approach with an example dataset of female elk from northwestern Wyoming and conclude with a number of important future research directions.
Additional publication details
Wildlife contact analysis: Emerging methods, questions, and challenges
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Northern Rocky Mountain Science CenterNational Wildlife Health Center