Social network analysis has increasingly been considered a useful tool to interpret the complexity of animal social relationships. However, group composition can affect the contact structure of the network resulting in variation between networks. Replication in contact network studies is rarely done but enables determination of possible variation in response across networks. Here we explore the importance of between-group variability in social behaviour and the impact of replication on hypothesis testing. We use an exemplar study of social contact data collected from six replicated networks of cattle before and after the application of a social disturbance treatment. In this replicated study, subtle but consistent changes in animal contact patterns were detected after the application of a social disturbance treatment. We then quantify both within- and between-group variation in this study and explore the importance of varying the number of replicates and the number of individuals within each network, on the precision of the differences in treatment effects for the contact behaviour of the resident cattle. The analysis demonstrates that reducing the number of networks observed in the study would reduce the probability of detecting treatment differences for social behaviours even if the total number of animals was kept the same.
- Behavioural ecology
- Statistical methods