Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Colorado
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Twining, JP, Zalewski, A, Cove, MV, Birks, J, Wearn, O, Haysom, J, Wereszczuk, A,Manzo, E, Bartolommei, P, Mortelli, A, Evans, B, Gerber, BD, McGreevy, TJ,Ganoe, L, Masseloux, J, Mayer, A, Wierzbowska, I, Akins, J, Drummey, D, McShea,W, Kays, R, Schuttler, S, Pardo, L, Boyce, A, Trujillo, AJV, L´opez-Gonz´alez, C, Lara-D´ıaz, NE, Sukmasuang, R, Whatton, M, Cosby, O, Giman, B, Ragai, RB, Li, S, Bu,H, Wang, D, Wang, F, Waggershauser, C, Bamber, J, Stewart, F, Fisher, J, Fuller,A, Perkins, K, Sutherland, C, and Powell, RA. In Press. Sociality in unexpected places: Using global remote camera data to evaluate the drivers of social complexity.Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 121, e2312252121.


The social system of animals involves a complex interplay between physiology, natural history, and the environment. Long relied upon discrete categorizations of “social” and “solitary” inhibit our capacity to understand species and their interactions with the world around them. Here, we use a globally distributed camera trapping dataset to test the drivers of aggregating into groups in a species complex (martens and relatives, family Mustelidae, Order Carnivora) assumed to be obligately solitary. We use a simple quantification, the probability of being detected in a group, that was applied across our globally derived camera trap dataset. Using a series of binomial generalized mixed-effects models applied to a dataset of 16,483 independent detections across 17 countries on four continents we test explicit hypotheses about potential drivers of group formation. We observe a wide range of probabilities of being detected in groups within the solitary model system, with the probability of aggregating in groups varying by more than an order of magnitude. We demonstrate that a species’ context-dependent proclivity toward aggregating in groups is underpinned by a range of resource-related factors, primarily the distribution of resources, with increasing patchiness of resources facilitating group formation, as well as interactions between environmental conditions (resource constancy/winter severity) and physiology (energy storage capabilities). The wide variation in propensities to aggregate with conspecifics observed here highlights how continued failure to recognize complexities in the social behaviors of apparently solitary species limits our understanding not only of the individual species but also the causes and consequences of group formation.