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Not all types of host contacts are equal when it comes to E. coli transmission

Authors

  • Michaela D.J. Blyton,

    Corresponding author
    1. Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
    2. The Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
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  • Sam C. Banks,

    1. The Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
    2. National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub, ANU Node, Canberra, ACT, Australia
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  • Rod Peakall,

    1. Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
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  • David B. Lindenmayer,

    1. The Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
    2. National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub, ANU Node, Canberra, ACT, Australia
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  • David M. Gordon

    1. Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
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Abstract

The specific processes that facilitate pathogen transmission are poorly understood, particularly for wild animal populations. A major impediment for investigating transmission pathways is the need for simultaneous information on host contacts and pathogen transfer. In this study, we used commensal Escherichia coli strains as a model system for gastrointestinal pathogens. We combined strain-sharing information with detailed host contact data to investigate transmission routes in mountain brushtail possums. Despite E. coli being transmitted via the faecal-oral route, we revealed that, strain-sharing among possums was better explained by host contacts than spatial proximity. Furthermore, and unexpectedly, strain-sharing was more strongly associated with the duration of brief nocturnal associations than day-long den-sharing. Thus, the most cryptic and difficult associations to measure were the most relevant connections for the transmission of this symbiont. We predict that future studies that employ similar approaches will reveal the importance of previously overlooked associations as key transmission pathways.

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