Social network analysis is an increasingly popular tool for the study of the fine-scale and global social structure of animals. It has attracted particular attention by those attempting to unravel social structure in fission-fusion populations. It is clear that the social network approach offers some exciting opportunities for gaining new insights into social systems. However, some of the practices which are currently being used in the animal social networks literature are at worst questionable and at best over-enthusiastic. We highlight some of the areas of method, analysis and interpretation in which greater care may be needed in order to ensure that the biology we extract from our networks is robust. In particular, we suggest that more attention should be given to whether relational data are representative, the potential effect of observational errors and the choice and use of statistical tests. The importance of replication and manipulation must not be forgotten, and the interpretation of results requires care.
- Animal social networks
- Social structure