Infected or informed? Social structure and the simultaneous transmission of information and infectious disease

Julian C. Evans*, Matthew J. Silk, Neeltje J. Boogert, David J. Hodgson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Social interactions present opportunities for both information and infection to spread through populations. Social learning is often proposed as a key benefit of sociality, while infectious disease spread are proposed as a major cost. Multiple empirical and theoretical studies have demonstrated the importance of social structure for the transmission of either information or harmful pathogens and parasites, but rarely in combination. We provide an overview of relevant empirical studies, discuss differences in the transmission processes of infection and information, and review how these processes have been modelled. Finally, we highlight ways in which animal social network structure and dynamics might mediate the tradeoff between the sharing of information and infection. We reveal how modular social network structures can promote the spread of information and mitigate against the spread of infection relative to other network structures. We discuss how the maintenance of long-term social bonds, clustering of social contacts in time, and adaptive plasticity in behavioural interactions, all play important roles in influencing the transmission of information and infection. We provide novel hypotheses and suggest new directions for research that quantifies the transmission of information and infection simultaneously across different network structures to help tease apart their influence on the evolution of social behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1271-1288
Number of pages18
Issue number9
Early online date4 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Dynamic network
  • Epidemic
  • Group-living
  • Social evolution
  • Social learning
  • Social network


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