Differences in the bacterial communities inhabiting mammalian gut microbiomes tend to reflect the phylogenetic relatedness of their hosts, a pattern dubbed phylosymbiosis. Although most research on this pattern has compared the gut microbiomes of host species across biomes, understanding the evolutionary and ecological processes that generate phylosymbiosis requires comparisons across phylogenetic scales and under similar ecological conditions. We analysed the gut microbiomes of 14 sympatric small mammal species in a semi‐arid African savanna, hypothesizing that there would be a strong phylosymbiotic pattern associated with differences in their body sizes and diets. Consistent with phylosymbiosis, microbiome dissimilarity increased with phylogenetic distance among hosts, ranging from congeneric sets of mice and hares that did not differ significantly in microbiome composition to species from different taxonomic orders that had almost no gut bacteria in common. While phylosymbiosis was detected among just the 11 species of rodents, it was substantially weaker at this scale than in comparisons involving all 14 species together. In contrast, microbiome diversity and composition were generally more strongly correlated with body size, dietary breadth, and dietary overlap in comparisons restricted to rodents than in those including all lineages. The starkest divides in microbiome composition thus reflected the broad evolutionary divergence of hosts, regardless of body size or diet, while subtler microbiome differences reflected variation in ecologically important traits of closely related hosts. Strong phylosymbiotic patterns arose deep in the phylogeny, and ecological filters that promote functional differentiation of cooccurring host species may disrupt or obscure this pattern near the tips.
The gut microbiota is critical for host function. Among mammals, host phylogenetic relatedness and diet are strong drivers of gut microbiota structure, but one factor may be more influential than the other. Here, we used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to determine the relative contributions of host phylogeny and host diet in structuring the gut microbiotas of 11 herbivore species from 5 families living sympatrically in southwest Kenya. Herbivore species were classified as grazers, browsers, or mixed-feeders and dietary data (% C4 grasses in diet) were compiled from previously published sources. We found that herbivore gut microbiotas were highly species-specific, and that host taxonomy accounted for more variation in the gut microbiota (30%) than did host dietary guild (10%) or sample month (8%). Overall, similarity in the gut microbiota increased with host phylogenetic relatedness (
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Springer Science + Business Media
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Animal Microbiome
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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