Herding in dugongs: Do dugongs form social aggregations, or aggregate only to feed?.
This project investigates if dugongs, Dugong dugon, form social aggregations with conspecifics or if individuals are essentially solitary and only aggregate around a resource, i.e., seagrass. Dugong herds in Moreton and Hervey Basy have been studied for the past ten and five years, respectively. Individuals in these areas are individually identified using genetic tags as part of on-going mark-recapture studies. Dugongs are sometimes found solitary, in pairs or in herds of over 200 individuals. Many species of animals congregate in herds for a number of reasons including: increased predator protection, foraging success and reproductive success. The benefits of herding in dugongs are currently unknown. To understand the structure of dugong herds this study will use the individual identification data to firstly map the spatial and temporal distribution of herds in relation to sex, size, maturity and reproductive activity. Secondly, through the use of social network analysis, we will determine if individuals form specific associations with other individual dugongs or with groups of certain sex, size class or reproductive status.