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Ecological factors, such as predation, have traditionally been used to explain sociability. However, it is increasingly recognised that individuals within a group do not associate randomly, and that these non-random associations can generate fitness advantages. The majority of the empirical evidence on differentiated associations in group-living mammals, however, comes from a limited number of taxa and we still know very little about their occurrence and characteristics in some highly social species, such as rats (Rattus spp.). Here, using network analysis, we quantified association patterns in four groups of male fancy rats. We found that the associations between rats were not randomly distributed and that most individuals had significantly more preferred/avoided associates than expected by random. We also found that these preferences can be stable over time, and that they were not influenced by individuals’ rank position in the dominance hierarchy. Our findings are consistent with work in other mammals, but contrast with the limited evidence available for other rat strains. While further studies in groups with different demographic composition are warranted to confirm our findings, the occurrence of differentiated associations in all male groups of rats have important implications for the management and welfare of captive rat populations.
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