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Quantitative characterization of animal social organization: Applications for epidemiological modelling

University of Bern, Veterinary Institute for Public Health, Animal Welfare Division, Laenggassstrasse 120, Bern CH-3012, Switzerland

Special Issues: Mathematical modeling and analysis of social and ecological determinants for the dynamics of infectious diseases and public health policies

Social organization is a key aspect of animal ecology, closely interlinked with all aspects of animal behaviour. The structure of animal assemblages is highly diverse, both within and between species. The complexity and variety of social systems and the dynamic nature of interactions and dependencies between members of social groups have long been major obstacles for developing operational characterizations of social organization. Here, social network analysis, a set of statistical tools rooted in graph theory, suggests itself as a potential solution for this problem, by offering quantitative measures for various aspects of social relationships. In this review I will first introduce network analysis as a tool to characterize the social organization of animal groups and population and, then, focus on the application of this method for epidemiological modelling, specifically the prediction of spreading patterns of pathogens in livestock and its potential for informing targeted surveillance and planning of intervention measures.
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