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Personality composition alters the transmission of cuticular bacteria in social groups


The initial stages of a disease outbreak can determine the magnitude of the ensuing epidemic. Though rarely tested in unison, two factors with important consequences for the transmission dynamics of infectious agents are the collective traits of the susceptible population and the individual traits of the index case (i.e. 'patient zero'). Here, we test whether the personality composition of a social group can explain horizontal transmission dynamics of cuticular bacteria using the social spider Stegodyphus dumicola We exposed focal spiders of known behavioural phenotypes with a GFP-transformed cuticular bacterium (Pantoea sp.) and placed them in groups of 10 susceptible individuals (i.e. those with no experience with this bacterium). We measured bacterial transmission to groups composed of either all shy spiders, 10% bold spiders or 40% bold spiders. We found that colonies with 40% bold spiders experienced over twice the incidence of transmission compared to colonies with just 10% bold individuals after only 24 h of interaction. Colonies of all shy spiders experienced an intermediate degree of transmission. Interestingly, we did not detect an effect of the traits of the index case on transmission. These data suggest that the phenotypic composition of the susceptible population can have a greater influence on the degree of early transmission events than the traits of the index case.

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