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Journal Of Animal Ecology


1. Social interactions drive many important ecological and evolutionary processes. It is therefore essential to understand the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that underlie social patterns. A central tenet of the field of behavioural ecology is the expectation that the distribution of resources shapes patterns of social interactions. 2. We combined experimental manipulations with social network analyses to ask how patterns of resource distribution influence complex social interactions. 3. We experimentally manipulated the distribution of an essential food and reproductive resource in semi-natural populations of forked fungus beetles Bolitotherus cornutus. We aggregated resources into discrete clumps in half of the populations and evenly dispersed resources in the other half. We then observed social interactions between individually marked beetles. Half-way through the experiment, we reversed the resource distribution in each population, allowing us to control any demographic or behavioural differences between our experimental populations. At the end of the experiment, we compared individual and group social network characteristics between the two resource distribution treatments. 4. We found a statistically significant but quantitatively small effect of resource distribution on individual social network position and detected no effect on group social network structure. Individual connectivity (individual strength) and individual cliquishness (local clustering coefficient) increased in environments with clumped resources, but this difference explained very little of the variance in individual social network position. Individual centrality (individual betweenness) and measures of overall social structure (network density, average shortest path length and global clustering coefficient) did not differ between environments with dramatically different distributions of resources. 5. Our results illustrate that the resource environment, despite being fundamental to our understanding of social systems, does not always play a central role in shaping social interactions. Instead, our results suggest that sex differences and temporally fluctuating environmental conditions may be more important in determining patterns of social interactions.


Bolitotherus cornutus, experimental populations, forked fungus beetle, resource distribution, social interactions, social networks


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