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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

The gut microbiome as an indicator of habitat disturbance in a Critically Endangered lemur

McManus, Nicolette; Holmes, Sheila M.; Louis, Edward E., Jr.; Johnson, Steig E.; Baden, Andrea L.; Amato, Katherine R.


Background Habitat disturbance affects the biology and health of animals globally. Understanding the factors that contribute to the differential responses of animals to habitat disturbance is critical for conservation. The gut microbiota represents a potential pathway through which host responses to habitat disturbance might be mediated. However, a lack of quantitative environmental data in many gut microbiome (GM) studies of wild animals limits our ability to pinpoint mechanisms through which habitat disturbance affects the GM. Here, we examine the impact of anthropogenic habitat disturbance on the diet and GM of the Critically Endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum). We collected fecal samples and behavioral data from Varecia occupying habitats qualitatively categorized as primary forest, moderately disturbed forest, and heavily disturbed forest. Results Varecia diet and GM composition differed substantially across sites. Dietary richness predicted GM richness across sites, and overall GM composition was strongly correlated to diet composition. Additionally, the consumption of three specific food items positively correlated to the relative abundances of five microbial strains and one microbial genus across sites. However, diet did not explain all of the GM variation in our dataset, and differences in the GM were detected that were not correlated with diet, as measured. Conclusions Our data suggest that diet is an important influence on the Varecia GM across habitats and thus could be leveraged in novel conservation efforts in the future. However, other factors such as contact with humans should also be accounted for. Overall, we demonstrate that quantitative data describing host habitats must be paired with GM data to better target the specific mechanisms through which environmental change affects the GM.


Varecia; Madagascar; Diet; Host-microbe; Conservation

Published in

BMC ecology and evolution
2021, Volume: 21, number: 1, article number: 222Publisher: BMC