Investigating the effects of age-related spatial structuring on the transmission of a tick-borne virus in a colonially breeding host.
Wanelik KM., Burthe SJ., Harris MP., Nunn MA., Godfray HCJ., Sheldon BC., McLean AR., Wanless S.
Higher pathogen and parasite transmission is considered a universal cost of colonial breeding due to the physical proximity of colony members. However, this has rarely been tested in natural colonies, which are structured entities, whose members interact with a subset of individuals and differ in their infection histories. We use a population of common guillemots, Uria aalge, infected by a tick-borne virus, Great Island virus, to explore how age-related spatial structuring can influence the infection costs borne by different members of a breeding colony. Previous work has shown that the per-susceptible risk of infection (force of infection) is different for prebreeding (immature) and breeding (adult) guillemots which occupy different areas of the colony. We developed a mathematical model which showed that this difference in infection risk can only be maintained if mixing between these age groups is low. To estimate mixing between age groups, we recorded the movements of 63 individually recognizable, prebreeding guillemots in four different parts of a major colony in the North Sea during the breeding season. Prebreeding guillemots infrequently entered breeding areas (in only 26% of watches), though with marked differences in frequency of entry among individuals and more entries toward the end of the breeding season. Once entered, the proportion of time spent in breeding areas by prebreeding guillemots also varied between different parts of the colony. Our data and model predictions indicate low levels of age-group mixing, limiting exposure of breeding guillemots to infection. However, they also suggest that prebreeding guillemots have the potential to play an important role in driving infection dynamics. This highlights the sensitivity of breeding colonies to changes in the behavior of their members-a subject of particular importance in the context of global environmental change.