Note: This was a CESCA seminar at Virginia Tech.
Abstract: African elephants are one of the most highly social animal species. They live in “fission-fusion” societies where social groups divide and re-form over the course of hours, days, or weeks. These societies are thought to respond adaptively to changes in the physical and social environment. However, few models have been developed to measure and explain fission-fusion dynamics, and reasons for much of the observed elephant behavior are unknown. Through a collaboration between a large-mammal wildlife ecologist and a statistician, a bilinear mixed effects model for social networks was adapted to isolate several key components of the social behavior of wild African elephants. This social network model enables inference on environmental effects, such as seasonality, and can include predictors of pairwise affiliation, such as kinship, which allows large-mammal ecologists to test assumptions about elephant social structure and to develop new theories of why and how elephants interact.