A major challenge in biology is to understand how phylogeny, diet, and environment shape the mammalian gut microbiome. Yet most studies of nonhuman microbiomes have relied on relatively coarse dietary categorizations and have focused either on individual wild populations or on captive animals that are sheltered from environmental pressures, which may obscure the effects of dietary and environmental variation on microbiome composition in diverse natural communities. We analyzed plant and bacterial DNA in fecal samples from an assemblage of 33 sympatric large-herbivore species (27 native, 6 domesticated) in a semiarid East African savanna, which enabled high-resolution assessment of seasonal variation in both diet and microbiome composition. Phylogenetic relatedness strongly predicted microbiome composition (r = 0.91) and was weakly but significantly correlated with diet composition (r = 0.20). Dietary diversity did not significantly predict microbiome diversity across species or within any species except kudu; however, diet composition was significantly correlated with microbiome composition both across and within most species. We found a spectrum of seasonal sensitivity at the diet−microbiome nexus: Seasonal changes in diet composition explained 25% of seasonal variation in microbiome composition across species. Species’ positions on (and deviations from) this spectrum were not obviously driven by phylogeny, body size, digestive strategy, or diet composition; however, domesticated species tended to exhibit greater diet−microbiome turnover than wildlife. Our results reveal marked differences in the influence of environment on the degree of diet−microbiome covariation in free-ranging African megafauna, and this variation is not well explained by canonical predictors of nutritional ecology.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - 2019
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- 16S rRNA
- DNA metabarcoding