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Social network analysis of sheep grazing different plant functional groups

Yiakoulaki, Maria D., Hasanagas, Nikolaos D., Michelaki, Eleni, Tsiobani, Eleni T., Antoniou, Ioannis E.
Grass and forage science 2019 v.74 no.1 pp. 129-140
computer software, flocks, forbs, grasses, grasslands, grazing, sampling, sheep, shrubs, social networks, trees, Crete, Greece
Social Network Analysis (SNA) is used for the first time to investigate the relations between plant functional groups and social structure of grazing sheep. The research was conducted on a grassland in Crete's island Lefka Ori, Greece during 2016. A flock of 20 sheep of Sfakion race was analysed as a network and the sheep as nodes. The focal sampling technique was applied during four experimental periods of four consecutive days × eight hours/day. The plant species selected by sheep during grazing were categorized into four functional groups (grasses, broad‐leaved forbs, shrubs and trees), and the proximity and conflict relations that were developed among the flock members were recorded. The tools of SNA were defined and interpreted in the sheep flock, and the Visone software is used to calculate the network variables of proximity and conflicts relations of nodes. Correlations between the plant functional groups and network variables were examined by Spearman's bivariate correlation test. Sheep collectivity was enhanced while grazing grasses and simultaneously, a tendency for hierarchization within the flock was identified. Similarly, the proximity of sheep increased during forbs’ grazing while their individualism was strengthened. When grazing shrubs, the proximity of sheep was only in part maintained while the grazing of trees seems as the most deconstructive forage option of sheep proximity relations. In general, the grazing of all plant functional groups decreases conflicts among sheep except that of trees, which was insignificant for developing such relations.