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Summary

Although Escherichia coli is an important model organism for bacterial research, few studies have explored the nature of temporal variation in E. coli strains within the intestinal tracts of host individuals. In this study the E. coli strains of 54 mountain brushtail possums were sampled on four occasions during a year. This allowed temporal changes to be quantified both at the host population level and within individuals. Escherichia coli strains were identified using a combination of rep-PCR profiles from two primers (CGG and ERIC) and phylogenetic group assigned by quadruplex PCR. The study revealed considerable changes in community structure within individuals among all time periods. In fact, temporal variation within individuals accounted for more of the variation in E. coli community structure than differences between animals. In contrast to the within-host dynamics, there were no significant differences among the time periods at the host population level. It was also found that there was no effect of host age or sex on strain community structure within host individuals. These findings highlight the importance of temporal variation in the ecology of E. coli, while the methods applied in this study may serve as a foundation for further work in this area.