2022 journal article
Intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence on an omnivore’s gut microbiome
PLOS ONE, 17(4), e0266698.
Ed(s): E. Gorokhova
Gut microbiomes (GMBs), complex communities of microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tracts of their hosts, perform countless micro-ecosystem services such as facilitating energy uptake and modulating immune responses. While scientists increasingly recognize the role GMBs play in host health, the role of GMBs in wildlife ecology and conservation has yet to be realized fully. Here, we use brown bears (Ursus arctos) as an ecological model to (1) characterize GMB community composition associated with location, season, and reproductive condition of a large omnivore; (2) investigate how both extrinsic and intrinsic factors influence GMB community membership and structure; and (3) quantify differences in GMB communities among different locations, seasons, sex, and reproductive conditions. To achieve these aims, we subsampled brown bear fecal samples collected during United States National Park Service research activities at three National Parks and Preserves (Katmai, Lake Clark, and Gates of the Arctic) and extracted microbial DNA for 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and microbial taxonomic classification. We analyzed GMB communities using alpha and beta diversity indices, subsequently using linear mixed models to examine relationships between alpha diversity and extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Katmai brown bears hosted the greatest alpha diversity, whereas Gates brown bears hosted the least alpha diversity. Our results indicate that location and diet drive GMB variation, with bears hosting less phylogenetic diversity as park distance inland increases. Monitoring brown bear GMBs could enable managers to quickly detect and assess the impact of environmental perturbations on brown bear health. By integrating macro and micro-ecological perspectives we aim to inform local and landscape-level management decisions to promote long-term brown bear conservation and management.