Send to

Choose Destination
Front Microbiol. 2019 Oct 4;10:2291. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.02291. eCollection 2019.

Reduced Gut Microbiome Diversity and Metabolome Differences in Rhinoceros Species at Risk for Iron Overload Disorder.

Author information

Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, OH, United States.
Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States.
Division of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, United States.
Infectious Diseases Section, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA, United States.
Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, United States.
Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, United States.


Iron overload disorder (IOD) affects many wildlife species cared for ex situ. Two of the four rhinoceros species in human care, Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), are susceptible, whereas the other two, white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and greater one-horned (GOH) rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), are relatively resistant to IOD. Complex interrelationships exist between mammalian hosts, their indigenous gut microbiota, metabolome, physical condition, and iron availability. The goal of this study was to gain insight into these relationships within the family Rhinocerotidae. Specific objectives were to (1) characterize the gut microbiome and metabolome of four rhinoceros species; (2) compare the microbiome and metabolome of IOD-susceptible and IOD-resistant rhinoceros species; and (3) identify variation in the microbiome and metabolome associated with compromised health or disease in IOD-susceptible rhinoceroses. Fecal samples were collected from 31 rhinoceroses (Sumatran rhinoceros, n = 3; black rhinoceros, n = 6; GOH rhinoceros, n = 9; white rhinoceros, n = 13) located at five facilities, and matched fecal aliquots were processed for microbiome and metabolome analyses using 16S rRNA gene sequencing and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, respectively. Despite the phylogenetic disparity and dissimilar zoo diets of the hosts, the structure of the fecal microbiota of the two IOD-susceptible rhinoceros species were more closely related to each other than to those of the two IOD-resistant species (Bray-Curtis dissimilarity; IOD-susceptible vs. IOD-resistant p-value < 0.001). In addition, IOD-susceptible rhinoceroses exhibited less microbial diversity than their IOD-resistant relatives (Shannon diversity; p-value < 0.001) which could have health implications. Of note, the black rhinoceros was distinct among the four rhinoceros species with the most divergent fecal metabolome; interestingly, it contained higher concentrations of short chain fatty acids. Neither age nor sex were associated with differences in microbial community composition (p = 0.253 and 0.488, respectively) or fecal metabolomic profile (p = 0.634 and 0.332, respectively). Differences in the distal gut microbiomes between IOD-resistant and IOD-susceptible rhinoceroses support hypotheses that gut microbes play a role in host iron acquisition, and further studies and experiments to test these hypotheses are warranted.


Sumatran rhinoceros; black rhinoceros; disease susceptibility; iron overload; metabolome; microbial diversity; microbiome; rhinoceros

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Frontiers Media SA Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center