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Analyses of animal social networks have frequently benefited from techniques derived from other disciplines. Recently, machine learning algorithms have been adopted to infer social associations from time-series data gathered using remote, telemetry systems situated at provisioning sites. We adapt and modify existing inference methods to reveal the underlying social structure of wide-ranging marine predators moving through spatial arrays of passive acoustic receivers. From six months of tracking data for grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) at Palmyra atoll in the Pacific Ocean, we demonstrate that some individuals emerge as leaders within the population and that this behavioural coordination is predicted by both sex and the duration of co-occurrences between conspecifics. In doing so, we provide the first evidence of long-term, spatially extensive social processes in wild sharks. To achieve these results, we interrogate simulated and real tracking data with the explicit purpose of drawing attention to the key considerations in the use and interpretation of inference methods and their impact on resultant social structure. We provide a modified translation of the GMMEvents method for R, including new analyses quantifying the directionality and duration of social events with the aim of encouraging the careful use of these methods more widely in less tractable social animal systems but where passive telemetry is already widespread.
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David M. P. Jacoby, Yannis P. Papastamatiou, Robin Freeman J. R. Soc. Interface 2016 13 20160676; DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0676. Published 23 November 2016
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