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  1. Abstract

    Microbial rewilding, whereby exposure to naturalistic environments can modulate or augment gut microbiomes and improve host-microbe symbiosis, is being harnessed as an innovative approach to human health, one that may also have significant value to animal care and conservation. To test for microbial rewilding in animal microbiomes, we used a unique population of wild-born ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) that were initially held as illegal pets in unnatural settings and, subsequently, relocated to a rescue center in Madagascar where they live in naturalistic environments. Using amplicon and shotgun metagenomic sequencing of lemur and environmental microbiomes, we found multiple lines of evidence for microbial rewilding in lemurs that were transitioned from unnatural to naturalistic environments: A lemur’s duration of exposure to naturalistic settings significantly correlated with (a) increased compositional similarly to the gut communities of wild lemurs, (b) decreased proportions of antibiotic resistance genes that were likely acquired via human contact during pethood, and (c) greater covariation with soil microbiomes from natural habitats. Beyond the inherent psychosocial value of naturalistic environments, we find that actions, such as providing appropriate diets, minimizing contact with humans, and increasing exposure to natural environmental consortia, may assist in maximizing host-microbe symbiosis in animals under human care.

  2. Abstract Background

    Inter-population variation in host-associated microbiota reflects differences in the hosts’ environments, but this characterization is typically based on studies comparing few populations. The diversity of natural habitats and captivity conditions occupied by any given host species has not been captured in these comparisons. Moreover, intraspecific variation in gut microbiota, generally attributed to diet, may also stem from differential acquisition of environmental microbes—an understudied mechanism by which host microbiomes are directly shaped by environmental microbes. To more comprehensively characterize gut microbiota in an ecologically flexible host, the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta; n = 209), while also investigating the role of environmental acquisition, we used 16S rRNA sequencing of lemur gut and soil microbiota sampled from up to 13 settings, eight in the wilderness of Madagascar and five in captivity in Madagascar or the U.S. Based on matched fecal and soil samples, we used microbial source tracking to examine covariation between the two types of consortia.


    The diversity of lemur gut microbes varied markedly within and between settings. Microbial diversity was not consistently greater in wild than in captive lemurs, indicating that this metric is not necessarily an indicator of host habitat or environmental condition. Variation in microbial composition was inconsistent both withmore »a single, representative gut community for wild conspecifics and with a universal ‘signal of captivity’ that homogenizes the gut consortia of captive animals. Despite the similar, commercial diets of captive lemurs on both continents, lemur gut microbiomes within Madagascar were compositionally most similar, suggesting that non-dietary factors govern some of the variability. In particular, soil microbial communities varied across geographic locations, with the few samples from different continents being the most distinct, and there was significant and context-specific covariation between gut and soil microbiota.


    As one of the broadest, single-species investigations of primate microbiota, our study highlights that gut consortia are sensitive to multiple scales of environmental differences. This finding begs a reevaluation of the simple ‘captive vs. wild’ dichotomy. Beyond the important implications for animal care, health, and conservation, our finding that environmental acquisition may mediate aspects of host-associated consortia further expands the framework for how host-associated and environmental microbes interact across different microbial landscapes.

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  3. The overuse of man-made antibiotics has facilitated the global propagation of antibiotic resistance genes in animals, across natural and anthropogenically disturbed environments. Although antibiotic treatment is the most well-studied route by which resistance genes can develop and spread within host-associated microbiota, resistomes also can be acquired or enriched via more indirect routes, such as via transmission between hosts or via contact with antibiotic-contaminated matter within the environment. Relatively little is known about the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on reservoirs of resistance genes in wildlife and their environments. We therefore tested for (a) antibiotic resistance genes in primate hosts experiencing different severities and types of anthropogenic disturbance (i.e., non-wildlife animal presence, human presence, direct human contact, and antibiotic treatment), and (b) covariation between host-associated and environmental resistomes. We used shotgun metagenomic sequencing of ring-tailed lemur ( Lemur catta ) gut resistomes and associated soil resistomes sampled from up to 10 sites: seven in the wilderness of Madagascar and three in captivity in Madagascar or the United States. We found that, compared to wild lemurs, captive lemurs harbored greater abundances of resistance genes, but not necessarily more diverse resistomes. Abundances of resistance genes were positively correlated with our assessments of anthropogenic disturbance,more »a pattern that was robust across all ten lemur populations. The composition of lemur resistomes was site-specific and the types of resistance genes reflected antibiotic usage in the country of origin, such as vancomycin use in Madagascar. We found support for multiple routes of ARG enrichment (e.g., via human contact, antibiotic treatment, and environmental acquisition) that differed across lemur populations, but could result in similar degrees of enrichment. Soil resistomes varied across natural habitats in Madagascar and, at sites with greater anthropogenic disturbance, lemurs and soil resistomes covaried. As one of the broadest, single-species investigations of wildlife resistomes to date, we show that the transmission and enrichment of antibiotic resistance genes varies across environments, thereby adding to the mounting evidence that the resistance crisis extends outside of traditional clinical settings.« less
  4. Abstract Background

    Antibiotics alter the diversity, structure, and dynamics of host-associated microbial consortia, including via development of antibiotic resistance; however, patterns of recovery from microbial imbalances and methods to mitigate associated negative effects remain poorly understood, particularly outside of human-clinical and model-rodent studies that focus on outcome over process. To improve conceptual understanding of host-microbe symbiosis in more naturalistic contexts, we applied an ecological framework to a non-traditional, strepsirrhine primate model via long-term, multi-faceted study of microbial community structure before, during, and following two experimental manipulations. Specifically, we administered a broad-spectrum antibiotic, either alone or with subsequent fecal transfaunation, to healthy, male ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), then used 16S rRNA and shotgun metagenomic sequencing to longitudinally track the diversity, composition, associations, and resistomes of their gut microbiota both within and across baseline, treatment, and recovery phases.


    Antibiotic treatment resulted in a drastic decline in microbial diversity and a dramatic alteration in community composition. Whereas microbial diversity recovered rapidly regardless of experimental group, patterns of microbial community composition reflected long-term instability following treatment with antibiotics alone, a pattern that was attenuated by fecal transfaunation. Covariation analysis revealed that certain taxa dominated bacterial associations, representing potential keystone species in lemur gut microbiota. Antibioticmore »resistance genes, which were universally present, including in lemurs that had never been administered antibiotics, varied across individuals and treatment groups.


    Long-term, integrated study post antibiotic-induced microbial imbalance revealed differential, metric-dependent evidence of recovery, with beneficial effects of fecal transfaunation on recovering community composition, and potentially negative consequences to lemur resistomes. Beyond providing new perspectives on the dynamics that govern host-associated communities, particularly in the Anthropocene era, our holistic study in an endangered species is a first step in addressing the recent, interdisciplinary calls for greater integration of microbiome science into animal care and conservation.

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  5. Abstract

    Female intrasexual competition can be intense in cooperatively breeding species, with some dominant breeders (matriarchs) limiting reproduction in subordinates via aggression, eviction or infanticide. In males, such tendencies bidirectionally link to testosterone, but in females, there has been little systematic investigation of androgen-mediated behaviour within and across generations. In 22 clans of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta), we show that matriarchs 1) express peak androgen concentrations during late gestation, 2) when displaying peak feeding competition, dominance behaviour, and evictions, and 3) relative to subordinates, produce offspring that are more aggressive in early development. Late-gestation antiandrogen treatment of matriarchs 4) specifically reduces dominance behaviour, is associated with infrequent evictions, decreases social centrality within the clan, 5) increases aggression in cohabiting subordinate dams, and 6) reduces offspring aggression. These effects implicate androgen-mediated aggression in the operation of female sexual selection, and intergenerational transmission of masculinised phenotypes in the evolution of meerkat cooperative breeding.

  6. The study of human chemical communication benefits from comparative perspectives that relate humans, conceptually and empirically, to other primates. All major primate groups rely on intraspecific chemosignals, but strepsirrhines present the greatest diversity and specialization, providing a rich framework for examining design, delivery and perception. Strepsirrhines actively scent mark, possess a functional vomeronasal organ, investigate scents via olfactory and gustatory means, and are exquisitely sensitive to chemically encoded messages. Variation in delivery, scent mixing and multimodality alters signal detection, longevity and intended audience. Based on an integrative, 19-species review, the main scent source used (excretory versus glandular) differentiates nocturnal from diurnal or cathemeral species, reflecting differing socioecological demands and evolutionary trajectories. Condition-dependent signals reflect immutable (species, sex, identity, genetic diversity, immunity and kinship) and transient (health, social status, reproductive state and breeding history) traits, consistent with socio-reproductive functions. Sex reversals in glandular elaboration, marking rates or chemical richness in female-dominant species implicate sexual selection of olfactory ornaments in both sexes. Whereas some compounds may be endogenously produced and modified (e.g. via hormones), microbial analyses of different odorants support the fermentation hypothesis of bacterial contribution. The intimate contexts of information transfer and varied functions provide important parallels applicable to olfactory communicationmore »in humans. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue ‘Olfactory communication in humans’.« less
  7. Abstract

    Contemporary theory that emphasizes the roles of oxytocin and vasopressin in mammalian sociality has been shaped by seminal vole research that revealed interspecific variation in neuroendocrine circuitry by mating system. However, substantial challenges exist in interpreting and translating these rodent findings to other mammalian groups, including humans, making research on nonhuman primates crucial. Both monogamous and non-monogamous species exist withinEulemur, a genus of strepsirrhine primate, offering a rare opportunity to broaden a comparative perspective on oxytocin and vasopressin neurocircuitry with increased evolutionary relevance to humans. We performed oxytocin and arginine vasopressin 1a receptor autoradiography on 12Eulemurbrains from seven closely related species to (1) characterize receptor distributions across the genus, and (2) examine differences between monogamous and non-monogamous species in regions part of putative “pair-bonding circuits”. We find some binding patterns acrossEulemurreminiscent of olfactory-guided rodents, but others congruent with more visually oriented anthropoids, consistent with lemurs occupying an ‘intermediary’ evolutionary niche between haplorhine primates and other mammalian groups. We find little evidence of a “pair-bonding circuit” inEulemurakin to those proposed in previous rodent or primate research. Mapping neuropeptide receptors in these nontraditional species questions existing assumptions and informs proposed evolutionary explanations about the biological bases of monogamy.