The faecal microbiota of muskoxen (n=3) pasturing on Ryøya (69° 33' N 18° 43' E), Norway, in late September was characterized using high-throughput sequencing of partial 16S rRNA gene regions. A total of 16 209 high-quality sequence reads from bacterial domains and 19 462 from archaea were generated. Preliminary taxonomic classifications of 806 bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) resulted in 53.7-59.3 % of the total sequences being without designations beyond the family level. Firmicutes (70.7-81.1 % of the total sequences) and Bacteroidetes (16.8-25.3 %) constituted the two major bacterial phyla, with uncharacterized members within the family Ruminococcaceae (28.9-40.9 %) as the major phylotype. Multiple-library comparisons between muskoxen and other ruminants indicated a higher similarity for muskoxen faeces and reindeer caecum (P>0.05) and some samples from cattle faeces. The archaeal sequences clustered into 37 OTUs, with dominating phylotypes affiliated to the methane-producing genus Methanobrevibacter (80-92 % of the total sequences). UniFrac analysis demonstrated heterogeneity between muskoxen archaeal libraries and those from reindeer and roe deer (P=1.0e-02, Bonferroni corrected), but not with foregut fermenters. The high proportion of cellulose-degrading Ruminococcus-affiliated bacteria agrees with the ingestion of a highly fibrous diet. Further experiments are required to elucidate the role played by these novel bacteria in the digestion of this fibrous Artic diet eaten by muskoxen.
Keywords: 16S rRNA; Archaea; Bacteria; methanogens; pyrosequencing; ruminant faeces.