The Gastrointestinal Microbiota Composition and Function of Free Range Wild Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) Mirrors Macro-Ecological Patterns

The gastro-intestinal microbiota of non-human primates plays indispensable roles in energy harvesting mechanisms and health. Thus, determining the factors that impact these micro-ecosystems may be considered essential to understanding primate biology and fitness. Here, we show that distal the microbiota composition of 3 groups of wild western lowland gorillas exhibits group-specific patterns that are impacted by diet and likely, the degree of contact with humans.

16S rRNA 454-pyrosequencing from fecal samples indicated greater abundance of members of the Clostridiales and Bacteroidales in samples from gorillas showing less frugivory. Furthermore, gorillas exposed to persistent human contact displayed unique microbiota compositions, generally characterized by an increased abundance of Gammaproteobacteria and other taxa usually associated with compromised gut health.

Microbiota functional data, in terms of short-chain fatty acid profiles, abundance of hydrogen-consuming microbes, and metagenome prediction analyses, further support the impact of foraging and anthropogenic interactions on the gut microbiota of wild western lowland gorillas. Our results emphasize the effect of overall host ecology in shaping the gut microbiota of wild primates, in the context of conservation and evolution.


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This project was funded through National Science Foundation (NSF) grant #0935347.


Bryan White
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

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