Social networks operate in the same way across all species, including humans, according to a 10-year study into the way animals behave.
Scientists found that the sharing of information through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook actually reflects the mechanisms animals have always used to gather information about their social environment.
Experts found evidence of animals forming cliques and gathering information to help make group decisions.
The study was conducted by Dr David Lusseau, of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, who examined communities of dolphins, whales, primates, and ungulates.
He said: “Social networks are the same across all species and, whilst details of their structure may differ, some properties remain the same whether we are looking at killer whales, spider monkeys or, indeed, humans.
“For example, the famous concept of six degrees of separation – the idea that everyone is linked by common acquaintances to any other person on Earth – holds true across the animal kingdom.
“Our studies into animal populations showed the ‘small world effect’ is prevalent in the animal kingdom. Also, we see cliques form in different species of animals in the same way as we ourselves experience in our day-to-day lives.”
Dr Lusseau will discuss his findings in a talk next week as part of the university’s Cafe Scientifique series.
He said: “I will explain that the driver behind the formation of social networks in the animal kingdom is information-gathering.
This information differs between species and populations – so it could be where food is, where predators are, or how strong you are in comparison to the other animals around you which would make you more of less likely to win in a fight.
“Schools of dolphins provide an example of this.
As individuals, dolphins have their own daily needs to fulfil, such as resting and eating, but they are also concerned with what they should do next as a group. We find that group leaders can emerge simply in particular cases because they might know the current context better than other members of the group.”