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Biol Lett. 2016 Jun;12(6). pii: 20160352. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0352.

Stress response, gut microbial diversity and sexual signals correlate with social interactions.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
Department of Statistics, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.
Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, CA 90293, USA.


Theory predicts that social interactions are dynamically linked to phenotype. Yet because social interactions are difficult to quantify, little is known about the precise details on how interactivity is linked to phenotype. Here, we deployed proximity loggers on North American barn swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) to examine intercorrelations among social interactions, morphology and features of the phenotype that are sensitive to the social context: stress-induced corticosterone (CORT) and gut microbial diversity. We analysed relationships at two spatial scales of interaction: (i) body contact and (ii) social interactions occurring between 0.1 and 5 m. Network analysis revealed that relationships between social interactions, morphology, CORT and gut microbial diversity varied depending on the sexes of the individuals interacting and the spatial scale of interaction proximity. We found evidence that body contact interactions were related to diversity of socially transmitted microbes and that looser social interactions were related to signalling traits and CORT.


contact network; corticosterone; gut microbiome; plumage colour; social network

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