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Keywords:

  • colobines;
  • environmental DNA;
  • faeces;
  • shotgun sequencing

Abstract

Faecal samples are of great value as a non-invasive means to gather information on the genetics, distribution, demography, diet and parasite infestation of endangered species. Direct shotgun sequencing of faecal DNA could give information on these simultaneously, but this approach is largely untested. Here, we used two faecal samples to characterize the diet of two red-shanked doucs langurs (Pygathrix nemaeus) that were fed known foliage, fruits, vegetables and cereals. Illumina HiSeq produced ~74 and 67 million paired reads for these samples, of which ~10 000 (0.014%) and ~44 000 (0.066%), respectively, were of chloroplast origin. Sequences were matched against a database of available chloroplast ‘barcodes’ for angiosperms. The results were compared with ‘metabarcoding’ using PCR amplification of the P6 loop of trnL. Metagenomics identified seven and nine of the likely 16 diet plants while six and five were identified by metabarcoding. Metabarcoding produced thousands of reads consistent with the known diet, but the barcodes were too short to identify several plant species to genus. Metagenomics utilized multiple, longer barcodes that combined had greater power of identification. However, rare diet items were not recovered. Read numbers for diet species in metagenomic and metabarcoding data were correlated, indicating that both are useful for determining relative sequence abundance. Metagenomic reads were uniformly distributed across the chloroplast genomes; thus, if chloroplast genomes were used as reference, the precision of identifications and species recovery would improve further. Metagenomics also recovered the host mitochondrial genome and numerous intestinal parasite sequences in addition to generating data useful for characterizing the microbiome.