Homophily around specialized foraging underlies dolphin social preferences


Individuals often associate socially with those who behave the same way. This principle, homophily, could structure populations into distinct social groups. We tested this hypothesis in a bottlenose dolphin population that appeared to be clustered around a specialized foraging tactic involving cooperation with net-casting fishermen, but in which other potential drivers of such social structure have never been assessed. We measured and controlled for the contribution of sex, age, genetic relatedness, home range, and foraging tactics on social associations to test for homophily effects. Dolphins tended to group with others having similar home ranges and frequency of using the specialized foraging tactic, but not other traits. Such social preferences were particularly clear when dolphins were not foraging, showing that homophily extends beyond simply participating in a specific tactic. Combined, these findings highlight the need to account multiple drivers of group formation across behavioural contexts to determine true social affiliations. We suggest that homophily around behavioural specialization can be a major driver of social patterns, with implications for other social processes. If homophily based on specialized tactics underlies animal social structures more widely, then it may be important in modulating opportunities for social learning, and therefore influence patterns of cultural transmission.

Biology Letters, 15, 20180909


2016: The Society for Marine Mammalogy (USA)
2017: Animal Behaviour Society (USA)

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