Authors: Samantha McFarlane, Micheline Manseau, Paul Wilson
- In social species, reproductive success and rates of dispersal vary among individuals resulting in spatially structured populations. Network analyses of familial relationships may provide insights on how these parameters influence population‐level demographic patterns. These methods, however, have rarely been applied to genetically derived pedigree data from wild populations.
- Here, we use parent–offspring relationships to construct familial networks from polygamous boreal woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Saskatchewan, Canada, to inform recovery efforts. We collected samples from 933 individuals at 15 variable microsatellite loci along with caribou‐specific primers for sex identification. Using network measures, we assess the contribution of individual caribou to the population with several centrality measures and then determine which measures are best suited to inform on the population demographic structure. We investigate the centrality of individuals from eighteen different local areas, along with the entire population.
- We found substantial differences in centrality of individuals in different local areas, that in turn contributed differently to the full network, highlighting the importance of analyzing networks at different scales. The full network revealed that boreal caribou in Saskatchewan form a complex, interconnected familial network, as the removal of edges with high betweenness did not result in distinct subgroups. Alpha, betweenness, and eccentricity centrality were the most informative measures to characterize the population demographic structure and for spatially identifying areas of highest fitness levels and family cohesion across the range. We found varied levels of dispersal, fitness, and cohesion in family groups.
- Synthesis and applications: Our results demonstrate the value of different network measures in assessing genetically derived familial networks. The spatial application of the familial networks identified individuals presenting different fitness levels, short‐ and long‐distance dispersing ability across the range in support of population monitoring and recovery efforts.