Recent studies suggest that variation in diet across time and space results in changes in the mammalian gut microbiota. This variation may ultimately impact host ecology by altering nutritional status and health. Wild animal populations provide an excellent opportunity for understanding these interactions. However, compared to clinical studies, microbial research targeting wild animals is currently limited, and many published studies focus only on a single population of a single host species. In this study we utilize fecal samples from two species of howler monkey (Alouatta pigra and A. palliata) collected at four sites to investigate factors influencing the gut microbiota at three scales: taxonomic (host species), ecosystemic (forest type), and local (habitat disturbance/season). The results demonstrate that the effect of host species on the gut microbiota is stronger than the effect of host forest type, which is stronger than the effect of habitat disturbance or seasonality. Nevertheless, within host species, gut microbiota composition differs in response to forest type, habitat disturbance, and season. Variations in the effect size of these factors are associated both with host species and environment. This information may be beneficial for understanding ecological and evolutionary questions associated with Mesoamerican howler monkeys, as well as determining conservation challenges facing each species. These mechanisms may also provide insight into the ecology of other species of howler monkeys, non-human primates, and mammals.
Keywords: Alouatta; Disturbance; Habitat; Microbiome; Season.