Animals have evolved complex foraging strategies to obtain a nutritionally balanced diet and associated fitness benefits. Recent advances in nutrition research, combining state-space models of nutritional geometry with agent-based models of systems biology, show how nutrient targeted foraging behavior can also influence animal social interactions, ultimately affecting collective dynamics and group structures. Here we demonstrate how social network analyses can be integrated into such a modeling framework and provide a tangible and practical analytical tool to compare experimental results with theory. We illustrate our approach by examining the case of nutritionally mediated dominance hierarchies. First we show how nutritionally explicit agent-based models that simulate the emergence of dominance hierarchies can be used to generate social networks. Importantly the structural properties of our simulated networks bear similarities to dominance networks of real animals (where conflicts are not always directly related to nutrition). Finally, we demonstrate how metrics from social network analyses can be used to predict the fitness of agents in these simulated competitive environments. Our results highlight the potential importance of nutritional mechanisms in shaping dominance interactions in a wide range of social and ecological contexts. Nutrition likely influences social interaction in many species, and yet a theoretical framework for exploring these effects is currently lacking. Combining social network analyses with computational models from nutritional ecology may bridge this divide, representing a pragmatic approach for generating theoretical predictions for nutritional experiments.
Senior, A. M., Lihoreau, M., Buhl, J., Raubenheimer, D., & Simpson, S. J. (2016). Social network analysis and nutritional behavior: An integrated modeling approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(JAN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00018