Fecal microbiomes of non-human primates in Western Uganda reveal species-specific communities largely resistant to habitat perturbation

Authors


  • Conflicts of interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Abstract

Primate gastrointestinal microbial communities are becoming increasingly appreciated for their relevance to comparative medicine and conservation, but the factors that structure primate “microbiomes” remain controversial. This study examined a community of primates in Kibale National Park, Uganda, to assess the relative importance of host species and location in structuring gastrointestinal microbiomes. Fecal samples were collected from primates in intact forest and from primates in highly disturbed forest fragments. People and livestock living nearby were also included, as was a geographically distant population of related red colobus in Kenya. A culture-free microbial community fingerprinting technique was used to analyze fecal microbiomes from 124 individual red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus), 100 individual black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza), 111 individual red-tailed guenons (Cercopithecus ascanius), 578 human volunteers, and 364 domestic animals, including cattle (Bos indicus and B. indicus × B. taurus crosses), goats (Caprus hircus), sheep (Ovis aries), and pigs (Sus scrofa). Microbiomes sorted strongly by host species, and forest fragmentation did not alter this pattern. Microbiomes of Kenyan red colobus sorted distinctly from microbiomes of Ugandan red colobus, but microbiomes from these two red colobus populations clustered more closely with each other than with any other species. Microbiomes from red colobus and black-and-white colobus were more differentiated than would be predicted by the phylogenetic relatedness of these two species, perhaps reflecting heretofore underappreciated differences in digestive physiology between the species. Within Kibale, social group membership influenced intra-specific variation among microbiomes. However, intra-specific variation was higher among primates in forest fragments than among primates in intact forest, perhaps reflecting the physical separation of fragments. These results suggest that, in this system, species-specific processes such as gastrointestinal physiology strongly structure microbial communities, and that primate microbiomes are relatively resistant to perturbation, even across large geographic distances or in the face of habitat disturbance. Am. J. Primatol. 76:347–354, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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