Dispersal limitation promotes the diversification of the mammalian gut microbiota

Andrew H. Moeller, Taichi A. Suzuki, Dana Lin, Eileen A. Lacey, Samuel K. Wasser, Michael W. Nachman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


The gut bacterial communities of mammals have profound effects on host fitness, but the processes that generate and maintain gut bacterial diversity remain poorly understood. We mapped compositional variation (i.e., β-diversity) in the gut microbiotas of 136 pairs of wild mammalian species living throughout the Americas to assess how the distribution of mammals across geographic space influences the diversification of their gut bacteria. Comparing the gut microbiotas of sympatric and allopatric mammalian populations provided insights into the flow of gut bacteria within and between mammalian communities, revealing that spatial limits on bacterial dispersal promote β-diversity between the gut microbiotas of mammalian species. Each geographic locale displayed a unique gutmicrobiota composition that could not be fully explained by the diets and phylogenetic histories of the resident mammalian hosts, indicating that some gut bacteria are geographically restricted. Across the western hemisphere, the compositional overlap between the gut microbiotas of allopatric mammalian populations decayed exponentially with the geographic distance separating the hosts. The relationship between geographic distances among hosts and compositional differences among their gut microbiotas was independent of dietary and phylogenetic divergence among hosts. Within mammalian communities, we observed widespread sharing of gut bacteria between predator-prey host-species pairs, indicating horizontal transfer of gut bacteria through mammalian food chains. Collectively, these results indicate that compositional differences between the gut microbiotas of mammalian taxa are generated and maintained by limits to bacterial dispersal imposed by physical distance between hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13768-13773
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 26 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Biogeography
  • Food web
  • Metacommunity
  • Microbiome
  • Vertebrate


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