Arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii) are active for a scant 3 to 5 months of the year. During the active season, adult squirrels compete for mates, reproduce, and fatten in preparation for hibernation, while juvenile squirrels, weaned in early July, must grow and acquire sufficient fat to survive their first hibernation season. During hibernation, the gut microbial community is altered in diversity, abundance, and activity. To date, no studies have examined the gut microbiota of hibernators across the truncated active season. We characterized trends in diversity (454 pyrosequencing), density (flow cytometry), viability (flow cytometry), and metabolism (short-chain fatty acid analysis) of the gut microbial community of juvenile arctic ground squirrels across their first active season at weaning and at 4, 6, 8, and 10 weeks postweaning. At 8 weeks postweaning, the mean bacterial density was significantly higher than that at weaning, and the mean percentage of live bacteria was significantly higher than that at either weaning or 4 weeks postweaning. No significant differences in microbial diversity, total short-chain fatty acid concentrations, or molar proportions of individual short-chain fatty acids were observed among sample periods. The level of variability in gut microbial diversity among squirrels was high across the active season but was most similar among littermates, except at weaning, indicating strong maternal or genetic influences across development. Our results indicate that genetic or maternal influences exert profound effects on the gut microbial community of juvenile arctic ground squirrels. We did not find a correlation between host adiposity and gut microbial diversity during prehibernation fattening, likely due to a high level of variability among squirrels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology