Sunday , June 26 2022

Who has who to kiss? Prairie dog ‘greeting kisses’ reveal complex social networks


Who has who to kiss?  Prairie dog 'greeting kisses' reveal complex social networks

Credit: Jennifer Verdolin

Prairie dogs – those plump little coarse rodents found in meadows across the central and western United States – may not have TikTok or Instagram, but they do have intricate social networks. Understanding their connections, interactions, and surprisingly complex worlds can help wildlife conservationists successfully move and reintroduce species into the wild, according to a new study by Arizona University behavioral scientist Jennifer Verdolin.

Verdolin, an assistant professor of biology for conservation at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, has been studying prairie dogs for nearly two decades.

“They are such underdogs. Everything eats them, but they are so tough and remarkable,” Verdolin said. “People look at them as if they were just this big rat, but they have unique language; they have dialects. They work together and have cultural differences between colonies.”

In the prairies around Flagstaff, Arizona, doubled, Verdolin has seen prairie dog colonies survive predators, learn their intricate speech patterns and observe thousands of “greeting kisses” – that’s right, prairie dogs are big on smoking.

“They greet each other with a kiss, and people who kiss each other and then do not fight belong to the same social group and area,” Verdolin said. “All you have to do is watch. The more times they’ve kissed, the stronger the connection.”

Much like grooming behavior in primates, prairie dog “greet kisses” reveal complex social networks. Verdolin observed 80 prairie dogs, across 14 social networks. Unlike other animals, prairie dogs do not have a hierarchical social structure. In other words, there is no top (prairie) dog.

“This actually goes against most prairie dog literature, which says there’s a single male and a harem of females. That’s just not what we see,” Verdolin said. “Most social groups consist of multiple males and multiple females. Everyone kisses everyone, and the babies are the result of all that activity.”

But, according to Verdolin, not everyone is kissed equally. There are community bridges – those that kiss members of the neighboring social groups, and there are hubs – those that just seem to get all the kisses.

All of these kisses for prairie dogs helped Verdolin map out the intricacies of their social dynamics – from how many friends a particular prairie dog had, known as “degree centrality” in language analysis, to how many connections facilitated an individual prairie dog, otherwise known as “centrality between.”

Social network analytics like these have been used in ecological studies for a little over a decade and help ecologists understand how and when a species lies in their community. Predators, environmental conditions, and food availability all contribute to the ebb and flow of social interactions.

Recently, there have been a number of studies on wildlife species that examine how availability of resources shapes the dynamics of social groups. Killer whales, for example, become more clustered and connected when salmon are more abundant. A similar pattern has been observed in giraffes, with entire nets coming together in the wet season – again, a time when food is easier to obtain.

Where resources influence social behavior, most wildlife systems are believed to be fusion-fusion, meaning a group can split on feed when resources are lean and then reunite when they are abundant, Verdolin explained. Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs – The Kind Verdolin Targeted for This Study, published in the journal Holding and carrying– are a little different.

“Here we basically have a species that keeps a territory all year round, keeps a social group all year round and the amount of food that is available will change the way they interact with each other, the strength of those interactions and the frequency. of those interactions, “Verdolin said.

The intricacies of these social engagements have major implications for conservation efforts. While having enough resources to support a colony is important, it is not the only factor that supports survival. How animals interact, especially in situations of high stress, changes everything from how disease moves through a population to how information is transmitted or cultural learning can occur in a social group.

“This is enormous because behavior is not typically integrated into management, restoration and relocation of prairie dogs,” Verdolin said. “If you’re going to reintroduce or move them from one place to another, you can’t just store them and plop on a landscape because you’ve decided it’s appropriate.”

Relocations of prairie dogs often occur when colonies stand in the way of new construction or when they are considered destructive to a landscape, such as a golf course. The success of most relocation efforts is very low, affecting the more than 100 breeds that benefit from the presence of prairie dogs, Verdolin said.

With certain species, such as prairie dogs, it is important to consider all the factors that support their survival – not only food abundance, but also the size of the group, the spatial orientation of its members and how this affects social interactions, ”Verdolin said. “And it’s important to try to match those elements as much as possible when moving social groups or social types.”

Prairie dogs found competing squirrels to kill

More information:
Ferenc Jordán et al, Availability of resources affects global social networking properties in Gunnison’s prairie dogs (Cynomys gunnisoni), Holding and carrying (2021). DOI: 10.1163 / 1568539X-bja10118

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Citation: Who has who to kiss? Prairie Dog ‘Greeting Kisses’ Public Complex Social Networks (2021, October 15) Retrieved October 15, 2021 from

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