Recruitment and establishment of the gut microbiome in arctic shorebirds

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Gut microbiota play a key role in host health. Mammals acquire gut microbiota during birth, but timing of gut microbial recruitment in birds is unknown. We evaluated whether precocial chicks from three species of arctic-breeding shorebirds acquire gut microbiota before or after hatching, and then documented the rate and compositional dynamics of accumulation of gut microbiota. Contrary to earlier reports of microbial recruitment before hatching in chickens, quantitative PCR and Illumina sequence data indicated negligible microbiota in the guts of shorebird embryos before hatching. Analyses of chick feces indicated an exponential increase in bacterial abundance of guts 0-2 days post-hatch, followed by stabilization. Gut communities were characterized by stochastic recruitment and convergence towards a community dominated by Clostridia and Gammaproteobacteria. We conclude that guts of shorebird chicks are likely void of microbiota prior to hatch, but that stable gut microbiome establishes as early as 3 days of age, probably from environmental inocula.

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