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A time-based method for defining associations using photo-identification

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image of Behaviour

Photo-identification is an invaluable method for documenting associations. Based on the assumption that individuals photographed close together in time are physically close in space, the metadata associated with digital photography offers an opportunity to base association analyses on time between images. This was tested via analysis of associations within a population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. We compared the widely used group-membership method and an alternative time-based method. Overall social structures between methods were similar; high degrees of association among all individuals and little support for sub-groups. Results also indicated an increase in the precision of pairwise indices for the time-based method. This study validated the approach of using time as a basis for analyses of associations. Importantly, this method can be retrospectively applied to any photo-ID data set in which images of uniquely identifiable individuals are time-stamped by the camera.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Marine Science, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand ; 2: bDepartment of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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