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Distinct gut microbiomes in two polar bear subpopulations inhabiting different sea ice ecoregions

Franz, Megan, Whyte, Lyle, Atwood, Todd C., Laidre, Kristin L., Roy, Denis, Watson, Sophie E., Góngora, Esteban and McKinney, Melissa A. 2022. Distinct gut microbiomes in two polar bear subpopulations inhabiting different sea ice ecoregions. Scientific Reports 12 (1) , 522. 10.1038/s41598-021-04340-2

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Gut microbiomes were analyzed by 16S rRNA gene metabarcoding for polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the southern Beaufort Sea (SB), where sea ice loss has led to increased use of land-based food resources by bears, and from East Greenland (EG), where persistent sea ice has allowed hunting of ice-associated prey nearly year-round. SB polar bears showed a higher number of total (940 vs. 742) and unique (387 vs. 189) amplicon sequence variants and higher inter-individual variation compared to EG polar bears. Gut microbiome composition differed significantly between the two subpopulations and among sex/age classes, likely driven by diet variation and ontogenetic shifts in the gut microbiome. Dietary tracer analysis using fatty acid signatures for SB polar bears showed that diet explained more intrapopulation variation in gut microbiome composition and diversity than other tested variables, i.e., sex/age class, body condition, and capture year. Substantial differences in the SB gut microbiome relative to EG polar bears, and associations between SB gut microbiome and diet, suggest that the shifting foraging habits of SB polar bears tied to sea ice loss may be altering their gut microbiome, with potential consequences for nutrition and physiology.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Publisher: Nature Research
ISSN: 2045-2322
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 5 April 2022
Date of Acceptance: 13 December 2021
Last Modified: 06 May 2023 10:04

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