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Front Microbiol. 2015 Apr 10;6:296. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00296. eCollection 2015.

Redundancy, resilience, and host specificity of the ruminal microbiota: implications for engineering improved ruminal fermentations.

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US Dairy Forage Research Center, US Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service Madison, WI, USA ; Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin Madison, WI, USA.


The ruminal microbial community is remarkably diverse, containing 100s of different bacterial and archaeal species, plus many species of fungi and protozoa. Molecular studies have identified a "core microbiome" dominated by phyla Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, but also containing many other taxa. The rumen provides an ideal laboratory for studies on microbial ecology and the demonstration of ecological principles. In particular, the microbial community demonstrates both redundancy (overlap of function among multiple species) and resilience (resistance to, and capacity to recover from, perturbation). These twin properties provide remarkable stability that maintains digestive function for the host across a range of feeding and management conditions, but they also provide a challenge to engineering the rumen for improved function (e.g., improved fiber utilization or decreased methane production). Direct ruminal dosing or feeding of probiotic strains often fails to establish the added strains, due to intensive competition and amensalism from the indigenous residents that are well-adapted to the historical conditions within each rumen. Known exceptions include introduced strains that can fill otherwise unoccupied niches, as in the case of specialist bacteria that degrade phytotoxins such as mimosine or fluoroacetate. An additional complicating factor in manipulating the ruminal fermentation is the individuality or host specificity of the microbiota, in which individual animals contain a particular community whose species composition is capable of reconstituting itself, even following a near-total exchange of ruminal contents from another herd mate maintained on the same diet. Elucidation of the interactions between the microbial community and the individual host that establish and maintain this specificity may provide insights into why individual hosts vary in production metrics (e.g., feed efficiency or milk fat synthesis), and how to improve herd performance.


fermentation; host specificity; redundancy; resilience; rumen

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