2022 journal article
Correlating gut microbial membership to brown bear health metrics
SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 12(1).
The internal mechanisms responsible for modulating physiological condition, particularly those performed by the gut microbiome (GMB), remain under-explored in wildlife. However, as latitudinal and seasonal shifts in resource availability occur, the myriad micro-ecosystem services facilitated by the GMB may be especially important to wildlife health and resilience. Here, we use brown bears (Ursus arctos) as an ecological model to quantify the relationship between wildlife body condition metrics that are commonly used to assess individual and population-level health and GMB community composition and structure. 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 diversity indices, subsequently using Spearman's correlation analysis to examine relationships between alpha diversity and brown bear health metrics. We found no differences in GMB composition among bears with differing body conditions, nor any correlations between alpha diversity and body condition. Our results indicate that GMB composition reflects diverse foraging strategies while allowing brown bears to achieve similar body condition outcomes.