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Extensive variability in the gut microbiome of a highly-specialized and critically endangered lemur species across sites.

Abstract

Deforestation continues to jeopardize Malagasy primates as viable habitats become smaller, more fragmented, and more disturbed. This deforestation can lead to changes in diet, microhabitat, and gene flow between populations of endangered species, and it remains unclear how these changes may affect gut microbiome (GM) characteristics. The black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), which is among Madagascar's most threatened lemur species, provides a critical model for understanding the relationships between historical and on-going deforestation (habitat disturbance), feeding ecology, and GM composition and diversity. We studied four populations inhabiting two rainforests (relatively pristine vs. highly disturbed) in southeastern Madagascar. We conducted full-day focal animal behavioral follows and collected fecal samples opportunistically across a three-month period. Our results indicate that lemurs inhabiting sites characterized by habitat disturbance and low dietary diversity exhibited reduced gut microbial alpha diversity. We also show that these same factors were associated with high community dissimilarity using weighted and unweighted UniFrac metrics. Finally, an indicator species analysis showed that the most pristine site was characterized by an abundance of methanogenic archaea. While it is impossible to disentangle the relative contributions of each confounding variable presented by our sampling design, these results provide crucial information about GM variability, thereby underscoring the importance of monitoring endangered species at the population-level.

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