The microbial communities inhabiting the mammalian intestinal tract play an important role in diverse aspects of host biology. However, little is known regarding the forces shaping variation in these communities and their influence on host fitness. To shed light on the contributions of host genetics, transmission and geography to diversity in microbial communities between individuals, we performed a survey of intestinal microbial communities in a panel of 121 house mice derived from eight locations across Western Europe using pyrosequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene. The host factors studied included population structure estimated by microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA, genetic distance and geography. To determine whether host tissue (mucosa)-associated communities display properties distinct from those of the lumen, both the caecal mucosa and contents were examined. We identified Bacteroides, Robinsoniella and Helicobacter as the most abundant genera in both the caecal content and mucosa-associated communities of wild house mice. Overall, we found geography to be the most significant factor explaining patterns of diversity in the intestinal microbiota, with a comparatively weaker influence of host population structure and genetic distance. Furthermore, the influence of host genetic distance was limited to the mucosa communities, consistent with this environment being more intimately coupled to the host.
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