Assessing the social network structure of the Burrunan dolphin in Port Phillip Bay

Assessing the social network structure of the Burrunan dolphin in Port Phillip Bay

Social alliances play a key role in the success and survival of group-living mammals. Investigating the occurrence and stability of social alliances through time and space are informative of network drivers.

Overview

Social interactions among mammals are known to influence a range of essential life processes including offspring survival, reproductive success and longevity through protection from predators and resource acquisition. Dolphins are highly social animals, forming some of the most complex social structures known, from fission-fusion societies through to strong, long-term social bonds. For females, these bonds usually occur between kin (mother-calf associations) forming nursery groups with other females of the same status as a protective/shared care maternal strategy to enhance their offspring’s survival. In contrast, males are known to form strong alliances with other males to enhance their reproductive opportunities. However, a number of social, demographic and ecological factors are known to influence social interactions, thus social networks are context dependent and can provide great insight into drivers of population structure.

Using robust and established methods to quantify and assess social structure based on photographic fin-identification, we aim to investigate associations among individually identifiable Burrunan dolphins to;

  1. Determine social network structure of PPB population
  2. Investigate changes to social network structure over space and time
  3. Identify the possible drivers of social network structure, thus the evolutionary adaptations of the population

Understanding the social network structure of the PPB population will be critical for the ongoing conservation of the small, genetically distinct and isolated population inhabiting one of the most heavily urbanised coastal/inshore environments in Australia.

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