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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2016 Apr;92(4):fiw055. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiw055. Epub 2016 Mar 8.

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) faecal microbiota.

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Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology, University of Bologna, via Belmeloro 6, I-40126 Bologna, Italy.
Oltremare, via Ascoli Piceno 6, I-47838 Riccione RN, Italy.
Institute of Biomedical Technologies, Italian National Research Council, Via Fratelli Cervi 93, I-20090 Segrate, Milan, Italy.
Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology, University of Bologna, via Belmeloro 6, I-40126 Bologna, Italy


Cetaceans have evolved from herbivorous terrestrial artiodactyls closely related to ruminants and hippopotamuses. Delphinidae, a family included in this order, represent an extreme and successful re-adaptation of mammalian physiology to the marine habitat and piscivorous diet. The anatomical aspects of Delphinidae success are well understood, whereas some physiological aspects of their environmental fitness are less defined, such as the gut microbiota composition and its adaptation to their dietary niche. Here, we explored the faecal microbiota structure of nine adult bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and one breast-fed calf living in a controlled environment. According to our findings, dolphins possess a unique microbiota profile within the Mammalia class, highly resembling that of carnivorous marine fishes. The breast-fed calf showed a distinctive compositional structure of the gut microbial ecosystem, which partially overlaps with the mother's milk microbiota. Taken together, our data indicate that in dolphins the adaptation to the marine niche and piscivorous diet involved the convergence of their gut microbiota structure with that of marine fishes, overcoming the gut microbiota phylogenetic inertia previously described in terrestrial mammalians.


16S rDNA; Tursiops truncatus; cetacea; evolution; faecal microbiota; mammalia

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