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


Microbial adaptations facilitate non-ruminant Theropithecus gelada grazing behavior in northern Ethiopia

GILLIAN A.O. BRITTON1, CARL J. YEOMAN2, PETER J. FASHING3, NGA NGUYEN4, LARISSA SWEDELL5, BRYAN A. WHITE6,7, BRENDA A. WILSON6,8, REBECCA M. STUMPF6,9, KAREN E. NELSON10, MANOLITO TORRALBA10, MARCUS GILLIS10, STEVEN R. LEIGH11,6 and NATHANIEL DOMINY12.

1Department of Biology, Dartmouth College, 2Department of Animal and Range Sciences, Montana State University, 3Department of Anthropology, California State University, Fullerton, 4Department of Environmental Studies, California State University, Fullerton, 5Department of Anthropology, Queens College, 6Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 7Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 8Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 9Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 10J. Craig Venter Institute, 11Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, 12Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College

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Microbiomes refer to microbial genomes, including their environmental contexts and associations. Among catarrhines, intestinal microbiomes evolve in conjunction with their hosts, indicating phylogenetic conservatism, while diet clearly influences these communities. Such findings suggest that gut microbial communities are shaped by dynamic tensions between inheritance and diet, although roles of microbiomes in dietary adaptations remain unclear.

We examine effects of phylogeny and diet on the gut microbial communities, studying gut microbial communities of three baboon populations—Papio hamadryas, P. anubis, P. hamadryas x anubis—in Awash, Ethiopia, and a population of Theropithecus gelada (Guassa, Ethiopia). We hypothesize that the graminivorous diet of geladas is associated with a distinctive microbiome.

Using DNA extracted from fecal samples collected from individuals of each taxon, we employed bacterial 16S rDNA pyrosequencing to analyze gut microbial communities of each host. Phylogenies of microbial taxa and Bray-Curtis distance analyses of microbial taxa were used to identify similarities among baboon taxa.

Gelada microbiomes separate unambiguously from Papio microbiomes. While all baboons share similar microbial taxa, proportions of microbial phyla differ. Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes occur in high abundances in geladas, together forming a larger proportion of the microbiome than in other baboons. Microbiomes among other baboons vary, and distinctions among taxa are evident, particularly between olive and hamadryas baboons. Hybrid baboon microbiomes are “intermediate.” The gut microbiome complements distinctive aspects of anatomy and behavior, and is apparently tightly interwoven with aspects of gelada anatomical adaptations, perhaps more so than in other baboons.

This research was supported by Dartmouth College, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and NSF 0935347

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