Colony location and captivity influence the gut microbial community composition of the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea)

Tiffany C. Delport, Michelle L. Power, Robert G. Harcourt, Koa N. Webster, Sasha G. Tetu*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Gut microbiota play an important role in maintenance of mammalian metabolism and immune system regulation, and disturbances to this community can have adverse impacts on animal health. To better understand the composition of gut microbiota in marine mammals, fecal bacterial communities of the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea), an endangered pinniped with localized distribution, were examined. A comparison of samples from individuals across 11 wild colonies in South and Western Australia and three Australian captive populations showed five dominant bacterial phyla: Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Fusobacteria. The phylum Firmicutes was dominant in both wild (76.4%±4.73%) and captive animals (61.4%±10.8%), while Proteobacteria contributed more to captive (29.3%±11.5%) than to wild (10.6%±3.43%) fecal communities. Qualitative differences were observed between fecal communities from wild and captive animals based on principal-coordinate analysis. SIMPER (similarity percentage procedure) analyses indicated that operational taxonomic units (OTU) from the bacterial families Clostridiaceae and Ruminococcaceae were more abundant in wild than in captive animals and contributed most to the average dissimilarity between groups (SIMPER contributions of 19.1% and 10.9%, respectively). Differences in the biological environment, the foraging site fidelity, and anthropogenic impacts may provide various opportunities for unique microbial establishment in Australian sea lions. As anthropogenic disturbances to marine mammals are likely to increase, understanding the potential for such disturbances to impact microbial community compositions and subsequently affect animal health will be beneficial for management of these vulnerable species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3440-3449
    Number of pages10
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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