Predictable and host-species specific humanization of the gut microbiota in captive primates

Jennifer L. Houtz, Jon G. Sanders, Anthony Denice, Andrew H. Moeller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Humans and nonhuman primates (NHPs) harbor complex gut microbial communities that affect phenotypes and fitness. The gut microbiotas of wild NHPs reflect their hosts’ phylogenetic histories and are compositionally distinct from those of humans, but in captivity the endogenous gut microbial lineages of NHPs can be lost or replaced by lineages found in humans. Despite its potential contributions to gastrointestinal dysfunction, this humanization of the gut microbiota has not been investigated systematically across captive NHP species. Here, we show through comparisons of well-sampled wild and captive populations of apes and monkeys that the fraction of the gut microbiota humanized by captivity varies significantly between NHP species but is remarkably reproducible between captive populations of the same NHP species. Conspecific captive populations displayed significantly greater than expected overlap in the sets of bacterial 16S rRNA gene variants that were differentially abundant between captivity and the wild. This overlap was evident even between captive populations residing on different continents but was never observed between heterospecific captive populations. In addition, we developed an approach incorporating human gut microbiota data to rank NHPs’ gut microbial clades based on the propensity of their lineages to be lost or replaced in captivity by lineages found in humans. Relatively few microbial genera displayed reproducible degrees of humanization in different captive host species, but most microbial genera were reproducibly humanized or retained from the wild in conspecific pairs of captive populations. These results demonstrate that the gut microbiotas of captive NHPs display predictable, host-species specific responses to captivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3677-3687
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


  • archaea
  • bacteria
  • captive populations
  • conservation biology
  • microbial transmission
  • microbiome


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