Even Animals Practice Social Distancing to Prevent Spread of Microbes in the Wild

The coronavirus pandemic has forced mankind to opt for social distancing. People are curled up in their houses while avoiding physical touch. The highly contagious virus has raised many questions that still remain unanswered. Anyhow, researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in the US have revealed that animal species too practice social distancing.

The study, which was published in the journal Animal Behaviour, unearthed evidence of the importance of maintaining physical distance among individuals to avoid the spread of microbes. For this study, the scientists keenly observed monkeys in the wild to understand the role genetics, diet, social groupings and distance in a social network perform when it comes to the microbes found inside an animal’s system.

Social microbial transmission among monkeys can help inform us about how diseases spread. This has parallels to our current situation in which we are trying to understand how social distancing during the COVID 19 pandemic and future disease outbreaks may influence disease transmission.

said Eva Wikberg, an assistant professor in UTSA’s Department of Anthropology who studies the interaction between ecology, behavior and genetics in primates.

These gut microbes refer to all the microorganisms dwelling the digestive tract, starting with the stomach and ending with the colon. For past years, the microbiome has been under scientific emphasis as the relation with the unhealthy gut and various health issues surfaced.

Even Animals Practice Social Distancing to Prevent Spread of Microbes in the Wild

Study of monkeys in the wild revealed that even animal species practice social distancing to prevent the spread of microbes | Image: First Post

As the microbial composition between individuals varies, scientists have found it rather difficult to study microbiomes. This research analysis has been particularly hard in wild populations because of the lack of detailed data required to properly study the myriad factors that shape the microbiome.

The researchers studied the fecal matter of 45 female colobus monkeys that flocked in eight different social groups in a small forest in Ghana. The results were very different. Nevertheless, individuals from various groups that were more meticulously associated with the population’s social network had more similar gut microbes.

This indicates that transmission of microbiomes takes place during occasional encounters with the members of other social groups.

While it was evident that such transmissions took place among the participants of the study, further research is required to investigate whether this type of transmission yields health benefits, which could explain why various social groups occasionally have between-group encounters.

Studies of wild animals can teach us a lot about the importance of using interventions, such as social distancing, to ensure a safer community during this pandemic.

said Wikberg.

According to the researchers, being in close space or accidentally brushing up against each other may be all it takes to spread certain microbes. It is suggested that few microbes that spread through this way helped the colobus monkeys to digest the leaves in their diet.

This is to say that various species bestow mankind with essential knowledge for their well-being, if only it could be deciphered and understood by the man. It would be interesting to unravel more of such puzzles of nature for the welfare of all living organisms.

Via: Science Daily

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