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Ecol Lett. 2012 Sep;15(9):1008-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01822.x. Epub 2012 Jun 20.

Experience matters: prior exposure to plant toxins enhances diversity of gut microbes in herbivores.

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1
Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA. kevin.kohl@utah.edu

Abstract

For decades, ecologists have hypothesised that exposure to plant secondary compounds (PSCs) modifies herbivore-associated microbial community composition. This notion has not been critically evaluated in wild mammalian herbivores on evolutionary timescales. We investigated responses of the microbial communities of two woodrat species (Neotoma bryanti and N. lepida). For each species, we compared experienced populations that independently converged to feed on the same toxic plant (creosote bush, Larrea tridentata) to naïve populations with no exposure to creosote toxins. The addition of dietary PSCs significantly altered gut microbial community structure, and the response was dependent on previous experience. Microbial diversity and relative abundances of several dominant phyla increased in experienced woodrats in response to PSCs; however, opposite effects were observed in naïve woodrats. These differential responses were convergent in experienced populations of both species. We hypothesise that adaptation of the foregut microbiota to creosote PSCs in experienced woodrats drives this differential response.

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