Definition Of Social Organization And Sociality

Social organization consists of three different systems: the spatial system, the social system, and the mating system (Sterling, 1993). Of these, the mating system is rarely known. For that reason, we will here only consider the spatial and social systems to describe patterns of social organization. We follow the definitions of Müller and Thalmann (2000):

The spatial system describes the spatiotemporal distribution of individuals. Spatial relations are similar throughout mammals, where four patterns are generally recognized: (1) male and female home range coincide (monogamy), (2) the home range of a male overlaps the home ranges of several females and vice versa (polygynandry or multimale/multifemale system), (3) the home range of one male overlaps those of several females (polygynamy or harem), and (4) the home range of one female overlaps those of several males (polyandry).

In contrast, there are major differences between social systems. Social systems describe the behavior and social relations between individuals (mainly males and females). In elephant shrews (Macroscelidea) for example the home ranges of a male and a female coincide and both sexes defend their ranges against conspecifics of the same sex. Males and females, however, neither share nests nor do they exhibit social contacts outside the breeding season (FitzGibbon, 1997; Rathbun, 1979; Sauer, 1973). In fat-tailed dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus medius), the male and the female also share a home range, but contrary to the elephant shrews, C. medius pairs share sleeping sites and have social contacts year-round (Fietz, 1999b; Fietz et al., 2000; Müller, 1998, 1999a,b). Woolly lemurs (Avahi sp.) forage in cohesive groups that consist of an adult pair and their offspring (Harcourt, 1991; Thalmann, 2001, 2002; Warren and Crompton, 1997). All of these species must be labeled monogamous even though they show obvious differences in their social relations. We, therefore, distinguish between these three basic social systems and use different terms: (1) animals forage solitarily and have no social contacts with con-specifics (spatial pattern), (2) animals forage solitarily but social networks are present (dispersed pattern), and (3) animals live in cohesive groups (gregarious pattern). In this sense elephant shrews exhibit spatial monogamy, the social organization of fat-tailed dwarf lemurs is dispersed monogamy and woolly lemurs show gregarious monogamy. The same distinction between patterns of social systems is applied to the other types of spatial system (i.e., to polygynandry, polygyny, and polyandry), but for spatial multimale/multi-female systems (spatial polygynandry) we use the term "promiscuity." Species whose social organization pattern is of the spatial type are described as nonso-cial, whereas those with dispersed and gregarious systems are termed social.

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