Interactions between Social Structure, Demography, and Transmission Determine Disease Persistence in Primates

Sadie J. Ryan, James H. Jones, Andrew P. Dobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Catastrophic declines in African great ape populations due to disease outbreaks have been reported in recent years, yet we rarely hear of similar disease impacts for the more solitary Asian great apes, or for smaller primates. We used an age-structured model of different primate social systems to illustrate that interactions between social structure and demography create 'dynamic constraints' on the pathogens that can establish and persist in primate host species with different social systems. We showed that this varies by disease transmission mode. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) require high rates of transmissibility to persist within a primate population. In particular, for a unimale social system, STIs require extremely high rates of transmissibility for persistence, and remain at extremely low prevalence in small primates, but this is less constrained in longer-lived, larger-bodied primates. In contrast, aerosol transmitted infections (ATIs) spread and persist at high prevalence in medium and large primates with moderate transmissibility;, establishment and persistence in small-bodied primates require higher relative rates of transmissibility. Intragroup contact structure - the social network - creates different constraints for different transmission modes, and our model underscores the importance of intragroup contacts on infection prior to intergroup movement in a structured population. When alpha males dominate sexual encounters, the resulting disease transmission dynamics differ from when social interactions are dominated by mother-infant grooming events, for example. This has important repercussions for pathogen spread across populations. Our framework reveals essential social and demographic characteristics of primates that predispose them to different disease risks that will be important for disease management and conservation planning for protected primate populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere76863
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 18 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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