Convergent remodelling of the gut microbiome is associated with host energetic condition over long-distance migration

Brian K. Trevelline, Daniel Sprockett, William V. DeLuca, Catherine R. Andreadis, Andrew H. Moeller, Christopher M. Tonra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The gut microbiome can be thought of as a virtual organ given its immense metabolic capacity and profound effects on host physiology. Migratory birds are capable of adaptively modulating many aspects of their physiology to facilitate long-distance movements, raising the hypothesis that their microbiome may undergo a parallel remodelling process that helps to meet the energetic demands of migration. To test this hypothesis, we investigated changes in gut microbiome composition and function over the fall migration of the Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata), which exhibits one of the longest known autumnal migratory routes of any songbird and rapidly undergoes extensive physiological remodelling during migration. Overall, our results showed that the Blackpoll Warbler microbiome differed significantly across phases of fall migration. This pattern was driven by a dramatic increase in the relative abundance of Proteobacteria, and more specifically a single 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequence variant belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae. Furthermore, migrating Blackpoll Warblers exhibited a progressive reduction in microbiome diversity and within-group variance, indicating convergence of microbiome composition among individuals during long-distance migration. Metagenomic analysis revealed that the gut microbiome of staging individuals was enriched in bacterial pathways involved in vitamin, amino acid and fatty acid biosynthesis, as well as carbohydrate metabolism. These pathways were in turn positively associated with host body mass and subcutaneous fat deposits. Together, these results provide evidence that the gut microbiome of migratory birds may undergo adaptive remodelling to meet the physiological and energetic demands of long-distance migration. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2840-2854
Number of pages15
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • 16S rRNA
  • birds
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • gut microbiome
  • metagenomics
  • migration
  • passerine
  • physiology


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