The Royal Society

Supplementary material from "Shared stressful experiences affect social proximity in Merino sheep"

Posted on 2023-01-30 - 05:40
While it is well established that humans develop stronger relationship bonds when they share stressful experiences, there is little known on how shared stressful experiences may influence relationship bonding in animals. Here, we present a study looking at social proximity between individuals in small groups of Merino ewes following a shared stressful experience compared with control sheep that were not exposed to stress. Some sheep were familiar to each other. Analyses of social proximity using real-time-kinematic Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) on-animal devices showed sheep preferred to be closest to familiar individuals, but across the study duration they also developed a preference for the individuals they shared the stressful experience with, relative to their proximity to control individuals. These results contribute to limited research on what factors may instigate the development of bonds between unfamiliar sheep. Between-individual bonds may develop as a means of socially mediated stress buffering. Social bonding following a shared stressful experience aligns with human social relationships and increases our understanding of how animals perceive their conspecifics in relation to stressful environmental change.


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