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  1. 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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  2. 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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  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