2022 journal article
Host preferences inhibit transmission from potential superspreader host species
Host species that are particularly abundant, infectious and/or infected tend to contribute disproportionately to symbiont (parasite or mutualist) maintenance in multi-host systems. Therefore, in a facultative multi-host system where two host species had high densities, high symbiont infestation intensities and high infestation prevalence, we expected interspecific transmission rates to be high. Instead, we found that interspecific symbiont transmission rates to caged sentinel hosts were an order of magnitude lower than intraspecific transmission rates in the wild. Using laboratory experiments to decompose transmission rates, we found that opportunities for interspecific transmission were frequent, where interspecific and intraspecific contact rate functions were statistically indistinguishable. However, most interspecific contacts did not lead to transmission events owing to a previously unrecognized transmission barrier: strong host preferences. During laboratory choice experiments, the symbiont preferred staying on or dispersing to its current host species, even though the oligochaete symbiont is a globally distributed host generalist that can survive and reproduce on many snail host species. These surprising results suggest that when managing symbiont transmission, identifying key host species is still important, but it may be equally important to identify and manage transmission barriers that keep potential superspreader host species in check.