Social relationships have profound effects on health in humans and other primates, but the mechanisms that explain this relationship are notwell understood. Using shotgun metagenomic data from wild baboons, we found that social group membership and social network relationships predicted both the taxonomic structure of the gut microbiome and the structure of genes encoded by gut microbial species. Rates of interaction directly explained variation in the gut microbiome, even after controlling for diet, kinship, and shared environments. They therefore strongly implicate direct physical contact among social partners in the transmission of gut microbial species. We identified 51 socially structured taxa, which were significantly enriched for anaerobic and non-spore-forming lifestyles. Our results argue that social interactions are an important determinant of gut microbiome composition in natural animal populations—a relationship with important ramifications for understanding how social relationships influence health, as well as the evolution of group living.
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