Does detection range matter for inferring social networks in a benthic shark using acoustic telemetry?
Accurately estimating contacts between animals can be critical in ecological studies such as examining social structure, predator–prey interactions or transmission of information and disease. While biotelemetry has been used successfully for such studies in terrestrial systems, it is still under development in the aquatic environment. Acoustic telemetry represents an attractive tool to investigate spatio-temporal behaviour of marine fish and has recently been suggested for monitoring underwater animal interactions. To evaluate the effectiveness of acoustic telemetry in recording interindividual contacts, we compared co-occurrence matrices deduced from three types of acoustic receivers varying in detection range in a benthic shark species. Our results demonstrate that (i) associations produced by acoustic receivers with a large detection range (i.e. Vemco VR2W) were significantly different from those produced by receivers with smaller ranges (i.e. Sonotronics miniSUR receivers and proximity loggers) and (ii) the position of individuals within their network, or centrality, also differed. These findings suggest that acoustic receivers with a large detection range may not be the best option to represent true social networks in the case of a benthic marine animal. While acoustic receivers are increasingly used by marine ecologists, we recommend users first evaluate the influence of detection range to depict accurate individual interactions before using these receivers for social or predator–prey studies. We also advocate for combining multiple receiver types depending on the ecological question being asked and the development of multi-sensor tags or testing of new automated proximity loggers, such as the Encounternet system, to improve the precision and accuracy of social and predator–prey interaction studies.