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Host-microbiota interaction helps to explain the bottom-up effects of climate change on a small rodent species

Abstract

The population cycles of small rodents have puzzled biologists for centuries. There is a growing recognition of the cascading effects of climate change on the population dynamics of rodents. However, the ultimate cause for the bottom-up effects of precipitation is poorly understood, from a microbial perspective. Here, we conducted a precipitation manipulation experiment in the field, and three feeding trials with controlled diets in the laboratory. We found precipitation supplementation facilitated the recovery of a perennial rhizomatous grass (Leymus chinensis) species, which altered the diet composition and increase the intake of fructose and fructooligosaccharides for Brandt’s vole. Lab results showed that this nutrient shift was accompanied by the modulation of gut microbiota composition and functional pathways (especially for the degradation or biosynthesis of L-histidine). Particularly, the relative abundance of Eubacterium hallii was consistently increased after feeding voles with more L. chinensis, fructose or fructooligosaccharide. These modulations ultimately increased the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and boosted the growth of vole. This study provides evidence that the precipitation pulses cascades through the plant community to affect rodent gut microbiome. Our results highlight the importance of considering host-microbiota interaction when investigating rodent population responses to climate change.

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