Host-associated microbiomes play an increasingly appreciated role in animal metabolism, immunity and health. The microbes in turn depend on their host for resources and can be transmitted across the host’s social network. In this Perspective, we describe how animal social interactions and networks may provide channels for microbial transmission. We propose the ‘social microbiome’ as the microbial metacommunity of an animal social group. We then consider the various social and environmental forces that are likely to influence the social microbiome at multiple scales, including at the individual level, within social groups, between groups, within populations and species, and finally between species. Through our comprehensive discussion of the ways in which sociobiological and ecological factors may affect microbial transmission, we outline new research directions for the field.
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We thank C. Allen-Blevins, V. Bentley-Condit, J. Diaz, C. Diggins, K. Eappen, A. Reese, E. Venable and F. Young for helpful discussion and feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. A.S., S.H. and R.I.M.D. declare no research funding. K.V.-A.J.’s research has been supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/J014427/1). A.H.M.’s research has been supported by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and by a Miller Research Fellowship from the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California, Berkeley. E.A.A.’s research has been supported by funds from the National Science Foundation (DEB 1840223 and IOS 1053461). L.D.S.’s research has been supported by the William F. Milton Fund, Harvard Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship, and a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. R.N.C.’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1919892), National Institutes of Health (R01AG049395), William F. Milton Fund, and the Harvard Dean’s Competitive Fund for Promising Scholarship. T.H.C.-B.’s research has been supported by the European Research Council (742808). P.W.J.B.’s research has been supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Council Industrial Partnership Award (BB/I006311/1), and research funds from Clasado Biosciences Ltd.
Some of P.W.J.B.’s microbiome-related research has been supported by Clasado Biosciences Ltd. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.
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Sarkar, A., Harty, S., Johnson, K.VA. et al. Microbial transmission in animal social networks and the social microbiome. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 1020–1035 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1220-8
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