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Diet simplification selects for high gut microbial diversity and strong fermenting ability in high-altitude pikas

Li, Huan, Qu, Jiapeng, Li, Tongtong, Wirth, Stephan, Zhang, Yanming, Zhao, Xinquan, Li, Xiangzhen
Applied microbiology and biotechnology 2018 v.102 no.15 pp. 6739-6751
Ochotona curzoniae, Prevotella, Ruminococcus, altitude, bacteria, carbohydrate metabolism, energy requirements, fermentation, genes, grasslands, hosts, intestinal microorganisms, mammals, metagenomics, microbial communities, plant-based diet, prediction, short chain fatty acids, China
The gut microbiota in mammals plays a key role in host metabolism and adaptation. However, relatively little is known regarding to how the animals adapts to extreme environments through regulating gut microbial diversity and function. Here, we investigated the diet, gut microbiota, short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) profiles, and cellulolytic activity from two common pika (Ochotona spp.) species in China, including Plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Daurian pika (Ochotona daurica) from the Inner Mongolia Grassland. Despite a partial diet overlap, Plateau pikas harbored lower diet diversity than Daurian pikas. Some bacteria (e.g., Prevotella and Ruminococcus) associated with fiber degradation were enriched in Plateau pikas. They harbored higher gut microbial diversity, total SCFA concentration, and cellulolytic activity than Daurian pikas. Interestingly, cellulolytic activity was positively correlated with the gut microbial diversity and SCFAs. Gut microbial communities and SCFA profiles were segregated structurally between host species. PICRUSt metagenome predictions demonstrated that microbial genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism and energy metabolism were overrepresented in the gut microbiota of Plateau pikas. Our results demonstrate that Plateau pikas harbor a stronger fermenting ability for the plant-based diet than Daurian pikas via gut microbial fermentation. The enhanced ability for utilization of plant-based diets in Plateau pikas may be partly a kind of microbiota adaptation for more energy requirements in cold and hypoxic high-altitude environments.