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The role of personality in animal social networks

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An individual’s personality has a significant influence on its fitness in interaction with the social environment. Yet very few studies focussed on how the personality of an individual interacts one on one with its social natural environment. Until now researchers were unable to simultaneously identify the personalities of individuals in the wild and quantify their pair-wise interactions. By using a state of the art tracking technology called Encounternet, we can now follow a large number of individuals continuously through both space and time, in a natural population of personality typed great tits. This enables us to study the influence of an individual’s personality on its place in a social network for many individuals in the wild simultaneously.

Very closely connected to this, we study the importance of song, in relation to personality, in establishing and maintaining the social network bonds. We look into the function of dawn song and territory defensive singing and the information, like personality, type of relationship and connectedness, transferred by it.  For this we use continuous singing rounds, playback experiments and automatic song recorders. Combining these quantitative and qualitative song data with the spatial data gathered by Encounternet gives us the opportunity to connect the social networks to the communication networks directly.

The study takes place at the Westerheide forest near Arnhem (the Netherlands). The forest houses over 200 nest boxes from which we monitor the great tit breeding ecology. Additionally, a substantial part of the wild great tits in our study area is personality typed, making it one of the most unique population of animals to study the role of personality in nature. The main fieldwork period starts in March and usually extends to the end of May-mid June. 

The grey numbers are the nestboxes of Westerheide; The yellow numbers are the receiver base nodes; The 2 coloured dots represent two tagged great tits.