Abstract / Description of output
Social relationships are important to many aspects of animals’ lives, and an individual’s connections may change over the course of their lifespan. Currently, it is unclear whether social connectedness declines within individuals as they age, and what the underlying mechanisms might be, so the role of age in structuring animal social systems remains unresolved, particularly in non-primates. Here we describe senescent declines in social connectedness using 46 years of data in a wild, individually monitored population of a long-lived mammal (European red deer, Cervus elaphus). Applying a series of spatial and social network analyses, we demonstrate that these declines occur because of within-individual changes in social behaviour, with correlated changes in spatial behaviour (smaller home ranges and movements to lower-density, lower-quality areas). These findings demonstrate that within-individual socio-spatial behavioural changes can lead older animals in fission–fusion societies to become less socially connected, shedding light on the ecological and evolutionary processes structuring wild animal populations.