The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


Characterization of the gastrointestinal bacterial communities of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

ANDRES GOMEZ1,2, CARL J. YEOMAN3, BRYAN A. WHITE1,2, KLARA PETRZELKOVA4, ANGELIQUE TODD5, REBECCA M. STUMPF1,6, KAREN E. NELSON7, MANOLITO TORRALBA7, MARCUS GILLIS7, BRENDA A. WILSON1,8 and STEVEN R. LEIGH1,9.

1Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 3Department of Animal and Range Sciences, Montana State University, 4Dept Mammal Ecology, Inst Vertebrate Biol, Czech Acad of Scis; Liberec Zoo, Liberec, and Dept Pathology and Parasitology, Univ Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Scis, Brno, Czech Republic, 5World Wildlife Foundation, Bangui, Central African Republic, 6Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 7J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland, 8Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 9Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder

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The gastrointestinal microbiome (GIM) is an important force behind mammalian dietary adaptions, influencing immunity and the ability to harvest otherwise inaccessible nutrients. In western lowland gorillas (G. g. gorilla), shifts in the availability of resources, e.g., fruit-based vs. high fiber content diets impact nutritional efficiency. We predict that the GIM contributes significantly to foraging plasticity and efficiency, particularly when animals focus on high fiber items.

Here, we characterized the GIM of gorilla groups from the Dzanga Sangha protected area in the Central African Republic using high-throughput sequencing of bacterial 16S rDNA from fecal samples. We evaluated annual, group, and individual variability in GIM ecosystems from 1.2M high-quality pyrotag sequence reads, enabling identification of bacterial content with an average sampling depth of ~12,400 reads per individual.

Analysis of dry season samples (Nov-Dec/2009 and 2010) reflect high abundances of Leuconostoc sp., a lactic acid producing bacteria, associated with fermented foods. The presence of Bellilinea sp., a member the phylum Chloroflexi and rarely a constituent of the mammalian GIM, suggests uniqueness of gorilla microbiomes. Other genera detected reflect significant metabolism of soluble and recalcitrant polysaccharides, phenolics and the synthesis of short chain fatty acids. We also report interannual and intergroup GIM variation.

Our findings support the hypothesis that the GIM contributes significantly to the physiology, adaptability, and health of gorillas in a changing, potentially threatened niche. The relative role of the GIM in meeting the nutritional needs of gorillas in tandem with morphology and behavior is discussed.

This study was funded by the University of Illinois and NSF grant 0935347. Field research was conducted with permission from the authorities of the Central African Republic.

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