Linking social and spatial networks to viral community phylogenetics reveals subtype-specific transmission dynamics in African lions

Nicholas M. Fountain-Jones, Craig Packer, Jennifer L. Troyer, Kimberly VanderWaal, Stacie Robinson, Maude Jacquot, Meggan E. Craft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Heterogeneity within pathogen species can have important consequences for how pathogens transmit across landscapes; however, discerning different transmission routes is challenging. Here, we apply both phylodynamic and phylogenetic community ecology techniques to examine the consequences of pathogen heterogeneity on transmission by assessing subtype-specific transmission pathways in a social carnivore. We use comprehensive social and spatial network data to examine transmission pathways for three subtypes of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIVPle) in African lions (Panthera leo) at multiple scales in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. We used FIVPle molecular data to examine the role of social organization and lion density in shaping transmission pathways and tested to what extent vertical (i.e., father– and/or mother–offspring relationships) or horizontal (between unrelated individuals) transmission underpinned these patterns for each subtype. Using the same data, we constructed subtype-specific FIVPle co-occurrence networks and assessed what combination of social networks, spatial networks or co-infection best structured the FIVPle network. While social organization (i.e., pride) was an important component of FIVPle transmission pathways at all scales, we find that FIVPle subtypes exhibited different transmission pathways at within- and between-pride scales. A combination of social and spatial networks, coupled with consideration of subtype co-infection, was likely to be important for FIVPle transmission for the two major subtypes, but the relative contribution of each factor was strongly subtype-specific. Our study provides evidence that pathogen heterogeneity is important in understanding pathogen transmission, which could have consequences for how endemic pathogens are managed. Furthermore, we demonstrate that community phylogenetic ecology coupled with phylodynamic techniques can reveal insights into the differential evolutionary pressures acting on virus subtypes, which can manifest into landscape-level effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1482
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2017 British Ecological Society


  • OTU networks
  • community ecology
  • feline immunodeficiency virus
  • generalized dissimilarity modelling
  • landscape ecology
  • phylogenetic diversity
  • social systems
  • transmission mode
  • wildlife disease


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