Age-Related Differences in the Gastrointestinal Microbiota of Chinstrap Penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica)

PLoS One. 2016 Apr 7;11(4):e0153215. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153215. eCollection 2016.


The gastrointestinal tract microbiota is known to play very important roles in the well being of animals. It is a complex community composed by hundreds of microbial species interacting closely among them and with their host, that is, a microbial ecosystem. The development of high throughput sequencing techniques allows studying the diversity of such communities in a realistic way and considerable work has been carried out in mammals and some birds such as chickens. Wild birds have received less attention and in particular, in the case of penguins, only a few individuals of five species have been examined with molecular techniques. We collected cloacal samples from Chinstrap penguins in the Vapour Col rookery in Deception Island, Antarctica, and carried out pyrosequencing of the V1-V3 region of the 16S rDNA in samples from 53 individuals, 27 adults and 26 chicks. This provided the first description of the Chinstrap penguin gastrointestinal tract microbiota and the most extensive in any penguin species. Firmicutes, Bacteoridetes, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Tenericutes were the main components. There were large differences between chicks and adults. The former had more Firmicutes and the latter more Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria. In addition, adults had richer and more diverse bacterial communities than chicks. These differences were also observed between parents and their offspring. On the other hand, nests explained differences in bacterial communities only among chicks. We suggest that environmental factors have a higher importance than genetic factors in the microbiota composition of chicks. The results also showed surprisingly large differences in community composition with other Antarctic penguins including the congeneric Adélie and Gentoo penguins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Metagenome
  • Spheniscidae / classification*
  • Spheniscidae / genetics*
  • Spheniscidae / microbiology


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal

Grants and funding

CGL2007-60369 Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (España, AB, CTM2011-24427 Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (España, AB, CTM2010-20361 "Marine Gems" Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (España, CPA, CTM2013-48292-C3-1-R "EcoBGM" Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (España, CPA.