Congratulations to Ph.D. student Pratha Sah on her publication!
"Inferring social structure and its drivers from refuge use in the desert tortoise, a relatively solitary species" (http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/05/07/025494) by Pratha Sah, Kenneth E. Nussear , Todd C. Esque, Christina M. Aiello, Peter J. Hudson, and Shweta Bansal was published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology on May 7, 2016.
Pratha describes her research in the text below:
"Significance of this study: Adaptive and social behavior that affects fitness is now being increasingly incorporated in the conservation and management of wildlife species. However, direct observations of social interactions in species considered to be solitary are difficult, and therefore integration of behavior in conservation and management decisions in such species has been infrequent. For such species, we propose quantifying refuge (such as burrows, dens, roosts, nests) use behavior as it can provide insights towards their (hidden) social structure, establish relevant contact patterns of infectious disease spread, and provide early warning signals of population stressors. Our study highlights this approach in a long-lived and threatened species, the desert tortoise. We provide evidence towards the presence of and identify mechanisms behind the social structure in desert tortoises formed by their burrow use preferences. We also show how individuals burrow use behavior responds to the presence of anthropogenic and environmental population stressors.
Why is the study useful in the context of wildlife epidemiology? The structure of networks in social species is known to affect population stability and resilience to infectious diseases. Less is known about the association between network structure and infection spread in solitary species. This study, by describing the burrow use networks of the desert tortoise, and elucidating the mechanisms behind individual variation is the first step to establish such functional roles of social networks in relatively solitary species."