Social network analysis offers new tools to study the social structure of primate groups. We used social network analysis to investigate the cohesiveness of a grooming network in a captive chimpanzee group (N = 17) and the role that individuals may play in it. Using data from a year-long observation, we constructed an unweighted social network of preferred grooming interactions by retaining only those dyads that groomed above the group mean. This choice of criterion was validated by the finding that the properties of the unweighted network correlated with the properties of a weighted network (i.e. a network representing the frequency of grooming interactions) constructed from the same data. To investigate group cohesion, we tested the resilience of the unweighted grooming network to the removal of central individuals (i.e. individuals with high betweenness centrality). The network fragmented more after the removal of individuals with high betweenness centrality than after the removal of random individuals. Central individuals played a pivotal role in maintaining the network's cohesiveness, and we suggest that this may be a typical property of affiliative networks like grooming networks. We found that the grooming network correlated with kinship and age, and that individuals with higher social status occupied more central positions in the network. Overall, the grooming network showed a heterogeneous structure, yet did not exhibit scale-free properties similar to many other primate networks. We discuss our results in light of recent findings on animal social networks and chimpanzee grooming.
- Cognitive Science