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Microb Ecol. 2017 Jul;74(1):250-258. doi: 10.1007/s00248-017-0938-6. Epub 2017 Jan 26.

Patterns in Gut Microbiota Similarity Associated with Degree of Sociality among Sex Classes of a Neotropical Primate.

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Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, 1810 Hinman Ave, Evanston, IL, 60208, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA.
Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico.
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA.
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA.
Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA.
J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD, USA.
School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA.


Studies of human and domestic animal models indicate that related individuals and those that spend the most time in physical contact typically have more similar gut microbial communities. However, few studies have examined these factors in wild mammals where complex social dynamics and a variety of interacting environmental factors may impact the patterns observed in controlled systems. Here, we explore the effect of host kinship and time spent in social contact on the gut microbiota of wild, black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). Our results indicate that closely related individuals had less similar gut microbial communities than non-related individuals. However, the effect was small. In contrast, as previously reported in baboons and chimpanzees, individuals that spent more time in contact (0 m) and close proximity (0-1 m) had more similar gut microbial communities. This pattern was driven by adult female-adult female dyads, which generally spend more time in social contact than adult male-adult male dyads or adult male-adult female dyads. Relative abundances of individual microbial genera such as Bacteroides, Clostridium, and Streptococcus were also more similar in individuals that spent more time in contact or close proximity. Overall, our data suggest that even in arboreal primates that live in small social groups and spend a relatively low proportion of their time in physical contact, social interactions are associated with variation in gut microbiota composition. Additionally, these results demonstrate that within a given host species, subgroups of individuals may interact with the gut microbiota differently.


Alouatta; Gut microbiota; Kinship; Social contact

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