Blood thicker than water: kinship, disease prevalence and group size drive divergent patterns of infection risk in a social mammal
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
© 2016 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
The importance of social- and kin-structuring of populations for the transmission of wildlife disease is widely assumed but poorly described. Social structure can help dilute risks of transmission for group members, and is relatively easy to measure, but kin-association represents a further level of population sub-structure that is harder to measure, particularly when association behaviours happen underground. Here, using epidemiological and molecular genetic data from a wild, high-density population of the European badger (Meles meles), we quantify the risks of infection with Mycobacterium bovis (the causative agent of tuberculosis) in cubs. The risk declines with increasing size of its social group, but this net dilution effect conceals divergent patterns of infection risk. Cubs only enjoy reduced risk when social groups have a higher proportion of test-negative individuals. Cubs suffer higher infection risk in social groups containing resident infectious adults, and these risks are exaggerated when cubs and infectious adults are closely related. We further identify key differences in infection risk associated with resident infectious males and females. We link our results to parent-offspring interactions and other kin-biased association, but also consider the possibility that susceptibility to infection is heritable. These patterns of infection risk help to explain the observation of a herd immunity effect in badgers following low-intensity vaccination campaigns. They also reveal kinship and kin-association to be important, and often hidden, drivers of disease transmission in social mammals.
The long-term studies at Woodchester Park are supported by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. D.H. was supported by Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/L007770/1.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 283: 20160798
Place of publication