Complex social structure may lead to behavioural diversity not only among populations, but also within a single population, where different subsets of a population may exhibit different types of behaviour. Understanding social structure is not only interesting biologically, but may also help conservation and management efforts, because not all segments of a population necessarily respond to or interact with human activities in the same way or at the same time.
This study examined the social structure of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Gulf of Trieste and adjacent waters (northern Adriatic Sea), based on a 9-year dataset, using social network metrics and association indices. The study assessed whether different segments of the population show differences in behaviour and interactions with fisheries.
The results show that dolphin social network was structured into distinct social clusters of mixed sexes. The two largest social clusters overlapped spatially, but not temporally, as they used the same area at different times of day. The authors highlight that the two clusters also differed in ways they interact with fisheries, as one regularly interacted with trawlers, while the other did not.
The authors conclude that this study demonstrates how different segments of animal populations can interact differently with human activities and in turn respond differently to anthropogenic impacts.
Genov et al. (2019) Behavioural and temporal partitioning of dolphin social groups in the northern Adriatic Sea. Marine Biology 166:11.