A guide to null models for animal social network analysis

Damien R. Farine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

265 Citations (Scopus)


Null models are an important component of the social network analysis toolbox. However, their use in hypothesis testing is still not widespread. Furthermore, several different approaches for constructing null models exist, each with their relative strengths and weaknesses, and often testing different hypotheses. In this study, I highlight why null models are important for robust hypothesis testing in studies of animal social networks. Using simulated data containing a known observation bias, I test how different statistical tests and null models perform if such a bias was unknown. I show that permutations of the raw observational (or ‘pre-network’) data consistently account for underlying structure in the generated social network, and thus can reduce both type I and type II error rates. However, permutations of pre-network data remain relatively uncommon in animal social network analysis because they are challenging to implement for certain data types, particularly those from focal follows and GPS tracking. I explain simple routines that can easily be implemented across different types of data, and supply R code that applies each type of null model to the same simulated dataset. The R code can easily be modified to test hypotheses with empirical data. Widespread use of pre-network data permutation methods will benefit researchers by facilitating robust hypothesis testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1309-1320
Number of pages12
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


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