2021 journal article
Host Identity and Geographic Location Significantly Affect Gastrointestinal Microbial Richness and Diversity in Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) under Human Care
The last few decades have seen an outpouring of gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome studies across diverse host species. Studies have ranged from assessments of GI microbial richness and diversity to classification of novel microbial lineages. Assessments of the "normal" state of the GI microbiome composition across multiple host species has gained increasing importance for distinguishing healthy versus diseased states. This study aimed to determine baselines and trends over time to establish "typical" patterns of GI microbial richness and diversity, as well as inter-individual variation, in three populations of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) under human care at three zoological institutions in North America. Fecal samples were collected from 19 western lowland gorillas every two weeks for seven months (n = 248). Host identity and host institution significantly affected GI microbiome community composition (p < 0.05), although host identity had the most consistent and significant effect on richness (p = 0.03) and Shannon diversity (p = 0.004) across institutions. Significant changes in microbial abundance over time were observed only at Denver Zoo (p < 0.05). Our results suggest that individuality contributes to most of the observed GI microbiome variation in the study populations. Our results also showed no significant changes in any individual's microbial richness or Shannon diversity during the 7-month study period. While some microbial taxa (Prevotella, Prevotellaceae and Ruminococcaceae) were detected in all gorillas at varying levels, determining individual baselines for microbial composition comparisons may be the most useful diagnostic tool for optimizing non-human primate health under human care.