Environmental and ecological factors that shape the gut bacterial communities of fish: a meta-analysis


Karen E. Sullam, Fax +41 58 765 21 68; E-mail:


Symbiotic bacteria often help their hosts acquire nutrients from their diet, showing trends of co-evolution and independent acquisition by hosts from the same trophic levels. While these trends hint at important roles for biotic factors, the effects of the abiotic environment on symbiotic community composition remain comparably understudied. In this investigation, we examined the influence of abiotic and biotic factors on the gut bacterial communities of fish from different taxa, trophic levels and habitats. Phylogenetic and statistical analyses of 25 16S rRNA libraries revealed that salinity, trophic level and possibly host phylogeny shape the composition of fish gut bacteria. When analysed alongside bacterial communities from other environments, fish gut communities typically clustered with gut communities from mammals and insects. Similar consideration of individual phylotypes (vs. communities) revealed evolutionary ties between fish gut microbes and symbionts of animals, as many of the bacteria from the guts of herbivorous fish were closely related to those from mammals. Our results indicate that fish harbour more specialized gut communities than previously recognized. They also highlight a trend of convergent acquisition of similar bacterial communities by fish and mammals, raising the possibility that fish were the first to evolve symbioses resembling those found among extant gut fermenting mammals.