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Global change-driven use of onshore habitat impacts polar bear faecal microbiota

Watson, Sophie E., Hauffe, Heidi C., Bull, Matthew J., Atwood, Todd C., McKinney, Melissa A., Pindo, Massimo and Perkins, Sarah E. ORCID: 2019. Global change-driven use of onshore habitat impacts polar bear faecal microbiota. ISME Journal 13 , pp. 2916-2926. 10.1038/s41396-019-0480-2

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The gut microbiota plays a critical role in host health, yet remains poorly studied in wild species. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus), key indicators of Arctic ecosystem health and environmental change, are currently affected by rapid shifts in habitat that may alter gut homeostasis. Declining sea ice has led to a divide in the southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation such that an increasing proportion of individuals now inhabit onshore coastal regions during the open-water period (‘onshore bears’) while others continue to exhibit their typical behaviour of remaining on the ice (‘offshore bears’). We propose that bears that have altered their habitat selection in response to climate change will exhibit a distinct gut microbiota diversity and composition, which may ultimately have important consequences for their health. Here, we perform the first assessment of abundance and diversity in the faecal microbiota of wild polar bears using 16S rRNA Illumina technology. We find that bacterial diversity is significantly higher in onshore bears compared to offshore bears. The most enriched OTU abundance in onshore bears belonged to the phylum Proteobacteria, while the most depleted OTU abundance within onshore bears was seen in the phylum Firmicutes. We conclude that climate-driven changes in polar bear land use are associated with distinct microbial communities. In doing so, we present the first case of global change mediated alterations in the gut microbiota of a free-roaming wild animal.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Springer Nature
ISSN: 1751-7362
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 23 July 2019
Date of Acceptance: 11 July 2019
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2024 16:24

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