Transmission between hosts is required for the maintenance of parasites in the host population and determines their ultimate evolutionary success. The transmission ability of parasites conditions their evolution in two ways: on one side, it affects the genetic structure of founded populations in new hosts. On the other side, parasite traits that increase transmission efficiency will be selected for. Therefore, knowledge of the factors and parameters that determine transmission efficiency is critical to predict the evolution of parasites. For plant viruses, little is known about the parameters of contact transmission, a major way of transmission of important virus genera and species. Here, we analyze the factors determining the efficiency of contact transmission of Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) that may affect virus evolution. As it has been reported for other modes of transmission, the rate of TMV transmission by contact depended on the contact opportunities between an infected and a noninfected host. However, TMV contact transmission differed from other modes of transmission, in that a positive correlation between the virus titer in the source leaf and the rate of transmission was not found within the range of our experimental conditions. Other factors associated with the nature of the source leaf, such as leaf age and the way in which it was infected, had an effect on the rate of transmission. Importantly, contact transmission resulted in severe bottlenecks, which did not depend on the host susceptibility to infection. Interestingly, the effective number of founders initiating the infection of a new host was highly similar to that reported for aphid-transmitted plant viruses, suggesting that this trait has evolved to an optimum value.
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