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Diet affects arctic ground squirrel gut microbial metatranscriptome independent of community structure

Hatton, Jasmine J., Stevenson, Timothy J., Buck, C. Loren, Duddleston, Khrystyne N.
Environmental microbiology 2017 v.19 no.4 pp. 1518-1535
Urocitellus parryii, body composition, community structure, energy, finishing, food intake, intestinal microorganisms, microbial communities, short chain fatty acids, squirrels, transcriptome
We examined the effect of diet on pre‐hibernation fattening and the gut microbiota of captive arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii). We measured body composition across time and gut microbiota density, diversity and function prior to and after five‐weeks on control, high‐fat, low‐fat (18%, 40% and 10% energy from fat, respectively), or restricted calorie (50% of control) diets. Squirrels fattened at the same rate and to the same degree on all diets. Additionally, we found no differences in gut microbiota diversity or short chain fatty acid production across time or with diet. Analysis of the gut microbial transcriptome indicated differences in community function among diet groups, but not across time, and revealed shifts in the relative contribution of function at a taxonomic level. Our results demonstrate that pre‐hibernation fattening of arctic ground squirrels is robust to changes in diet and is accomplished by more than increased food intake. Although our analyses did not uncover a definitive link between host fattening and the gut microbiota, and suggest the squirrels may possess a gut microbial community structure that is unresponsive to dietary changes, studies manipulating diet earlier in the active season may yet uncover a relationship between host diet, fattening and gut microbiota.