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mSystems. 2018 May 29;3(3). pii: e00052-18. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00052-18. eCollection 2018 May-Jun.

Environmental Sources of Bacteria Differentially Influence Host-Associated Microbial Dynamics.

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Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Mathematics and Computer Science, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois, USA.
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Biosciences Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Aquarium Microbiome Project, A. Watson Armour III Center for Animal Health and Welfare, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Surgery, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Host-associated microbial dynamics are influenced by dietary and immune factors, but how exogenous microbial exposure shapes host-microbe dynamics remains poorly characterized. To investigate this phenomenon, we characterized the skin, rectum, and respiratory tract-associated microbiota in four aquarium-housed dolphins daily over a period of 6 weeks, including administration of a probiotic during weeks 4 to 6. The environmental bacterial sources were also characterized, including the animals' human handlers, the aquarium air and water, and the dolphins' food supply. Continuous microbial exposure occurred between all sites, yet each environment maintained a characteristic microbiota, suggesting that the majority of exposure events do not result in colonization. Small changes in water physicochemistry had a significant but weak correlation with change in dolphin-associated bacterial richness but had no influence on phylogenetic diversity. Food and air microbiota were the richest and had the largest conditional influence on other microbiota in the absence of probiotics, but during probiotic administration, food alone had the largest influence on the stability of the dolphin microbiota. Our results suggest that respiratory tract and gastrointestinal epithelium interactions with air- and food-associated microbes had the biggest influence on host-microbiota dynamics, while other interactions, such as skin transmission, played only a minor role. Finally, direct oral stimulation with a foreign exogenous microbial source can have a profound effect on microbial stability. IMPORTANCE These results provide valuable insights into the ecological influence of exogenous microbial exposure, as well as laying the foundation for improving aquarium management practices. By comparing data for dolphins from aquaria that use natural versus artificial seawater, we demonstrate the potential influence of aquarium water disinfection procedures on dolphin microbial dynamics.


dolphin microbiome; environmental interactions; host microbiome; microbial ecology; microbial stability; probiotics

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