Social interactions can influence infectious disease dynamics, particularly for directly transmitted pathogens. Therefore, reliable information on contact frequency within and among groups can better inform disease modeling and management. We compared three methods of assessing contact patterns: (1) space-use overlap (volume of interaction [VI]), (2) direct contact rates measured by simultaneous global positioning system (GPS) locations (<10 m apart), and (3) direct contact rates measured by proximity loggers (PLs; 1-m detection) among female white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We calculated the PL∶GPS contact ratios to see whether both devices reveal similar contact patterns and thus predict similar pathogen transmission patterns. Contact rates measured by GPS and PLs were similarly high for two within-group dyads (pairs of deer in the same social groups). Dyads representing separate but neighboring groups (high VI) had PL∶GPS contact ratios near zero, whereas dyads further apart (intermediate VI) had higher PL∶GPS contact ratios. Social networks based on PL contacts showed the fewest connected individuals and lowest mean centrality measures; network metrics were intermediate when based on GPS contacts and greatest when based on VI. Thus, the VI network portrayed animals to be more uniformly and strongly connected than did the PL network. We conclude that simultaneous GPS locations, compared with PLs, substantially underestimate the impact of group membership on direct contact rates of female deer and make networks appear more connected. We also present evidence that deer coming within the general vicinity of each other are less likely to come in close contact if they are in neighboring social groups than deer whose home ranges overlap little if at all. Combined, these results provide evidence that direct transmission of disease agents among female and juvenile white-tailed deer is likely to be constrained both spatially and by social structure, more so than GPS data alone would suggest.
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Vol. 51 • No. 1