Vertebrate gut microbiota form a key component of immunity and a dynamic link between an individual and the ecosystem. Microbiota might play a role in social systems as well, because microbes are transmitted during social contact and can affect host behaviour. Combining methods from behavioural and molecular research, we describe the relationship between social dynamics and gut microbiota of a group-living cooperative species of primate, the red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer). Specifically, we ask whether patterns of social contact (group membership, group size, position in social network, individual sociality) are associated with patterns of gut microbial composition (diversity and similarity) between individuals and across time. Red-bellied lemurs were found to have gut microbiota with slight temporal fluctuations and strong social group-specific composition. Contrary to expectations, individual sociality was negatively associated with gut microbial diversity. However, position within the social network predicted gut microbial composition. These results emphasize the role of the social environment in determining the microbiota of adult animals. Since social transmission of gut microbiota has the potential to enhance immunity, microbiota might have played an escalating role in the evolution of sociality.
- microbial transmission
- social network
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology