The structure of animal social networks influences survival and reproductive success, as well as pathogen and information transmission. However, the general mechanisms determining social structure remain unclear. Using data from 73,767 social interactions among wild spotted hyenas collected over 27 years, we show that the process of social inheritance determines how offspring relationships are formed and maintained. Relationships between offspring and other hyenas bear resemblance to those of their mothers for as long as 6 years, and the degree of similarity increases with maternal social rank. Mother-offspring relationship strength affects social inheritance and is positively correlated with offspring longevity. These results support the hypothesis that social inheritance of relationships can structure animal social networks and be subject to adaptive tradeoffs.
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