Characterization of captive and wild 13-lined ground squirrel cecal microbiotas using Illumina-based sequencing

Anim Microbiome. 2022 Jan 3;4(1):1. doi: 10.1186/s42523-021-00154-9.


Background: Hibernating animals experience extreme changes in diet that make them useful systems for understanding host-microbial symbioses. However, most of our current knowledge about the hibernator gut microbiota is derived from studies using captive animals. Given that there are substantial differences between captive and wild environments, conclusions drawn from studies with captive hibernators may not reflect the gut microbiota's role in the physiology of wild animals. To address this, we used Illumina-based sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene to compare the bacterial cecal microbiotas of captive and wild 13-lined ground squirrels (TLGS) in the summer. As the first study to use Illumina-based technology to compare the microbiotas of an obligate rodent hibernator across the year, we also reported changes in captive TLGS microbiotas in summer, winter, and spring.

Results: Wild TLGS microbiotas had greater richness and phylogenetic diversity with less variation in beta diversity when compared to captive microbiotas. Taxa identified as core operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and found to significantly contribute to differences in beta diversity were primarily in the families Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae. Captive TLGS microbiotas shared phyla and core OTUs across the year, but active season (summer and spring) microbiotas had different alpha and beta diversities than winter season microbiotas.

Conclusions: This is the first study to compare the microbiotas of captive and wild rodent hibernators. Our findings suggest that data from captive and wild ground squirrels should be interpreted separately due to their distinct microbiotas. Additionally, as the first study to compare seasonal microbiotas of obligate rodent hibernators using Illumina-based 16S rRNA sequencing, we reported changes in captive TLGS microbiotas that are consistent with previous work. Taken together, this study provides foundational information for improving the reproducibility and experimental design of future hibernation microbiota studies.

Keywords: Captive; Hibernation; Host-microbe symbiosis; Illumina; Microbiota; Torpor; Wild.