Spatiotemporal variation in the gut microbiomes of co-occurring wild rodent species

Bianca R.P. Brown, Leo M. Khasoha, Peter Lokeny, Rhiannon P. Jakopak, Courtney G. Reed, Marissa Dyck, Alois Wambua, Seth D. Newsome, Todd M. Palmer, Robert M. Pringle, Jacob R. Goheen, Tyler R. Kartzinel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mammalian gut microbiomes differ within and among hosts. Hosts that occupy a broad range of environments may exhibit greater spatiotemporal variation in their microbiome than those constrained as specialists to narrower subsets of resources or habitats. This can occur if widespread host encounter a variety of ecological conditions that act to diversify their gut microbiomes and/or if generalized host species tend to form large populations that promote sharing and maintenance of diverse microbes. We studied spatiotemporal variation in the gut microbiomes of three co-occurring rodent species across an environmental gradient in a Kenyan savanna. We hypothesized: (1) the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional compositions of gut microbiomes as predicted using the Phylogenetic Investigation of Communities by Reconstruction of Unobserved States (PICRUSt) differ significantly among host species; (2) microbiome richness increases with population size for all host species; and (3) host species exhibit different levels of seasonal change in their gut microbiomes, reflecting different sensitivities to the environment. We evaluated changes in gut microbiome composition according to host species identity, site, and host population size using three years of capture–mark–recapture data and 351 microbiome samples. Host species differed significantly in microbiome composition, though the two species with more specialized diets and higher demographic sensitivities showed only slightly greater microbiome variability than those of a widespread dietary generalist. Total microbiome richness increased significantly with host population size for all species, but only one of the more specialized species also exhibited greater individual-level microbiome richness in large populations. Across co-occurring rodent species with diverse diets and life histories, large host population sizes were associated both with greater population-level microbiome richness (sampling effects) and turnover in the relative abundance of bacterial taxa (environmental effects), but there was no consistent pattern for individual-level richness (individual specialization). Together, our results show that maintenance of large host populations contributes to the maintenance of gut microbiome diversity in wild mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4854
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


  • 16S rRNA
  • capture–mark–recapture
  • specialization
  • stable isotopes
  • symbiosis


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