Social networks strongly predict the gut microbiota of wild mice.
Raulo A., Allen BE., Troitsky T., Husby A., Firth JA., Coulson T., Knowles SCL.
The mammalian gut teems with microbes, yet how hosts acquire these symbionts remains poorly understood. Research in primates suggests that microbes can be picked up via social contact, but the role of social interactions in non-group-living species remains underexplored. Here, we use a passive tracking system to collect high resolution spatiotemporal activity data from wild mice (Apodemus sylvaticus). Social network analysis revealed social association strength to be the strongest predictor of microbiota similarity among individuals, controlling for factors including spatial proximity and kinship, which had far smaller or nonsignificant effects. This social effect was limited to interactions involving males (male-male and male-female), implicating sex-dependent behaviours as driving processes. Social network position also predicted microbiota richness, with well-connected individuals having the most diverse microbiotas. Overall, these findings suggest social contact provides a key transmission pathway for gut symbionts even in relatively asocial mammals, that strongly shapes the adult gut microbiota. This work underlines the potential for individuals to pick up beneficial symbionts as well as pathogens from social interactions.