Study of African animals illuminates links between environment, diet and gut microbiome

Nov. 11, 2019

“Environmental change may influence what animals are eating, and as a consequence, influence their microbiome and health in a variety of ways that can only be understood in natural settings,” said study lead author Tyler Kartzinel, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University and a former postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved collecting and analyzing more than 1,000 samples of fecal material from 33 herbivore species — which ranged from diminutive dwarf antelopes to gigantic giraffes and elephants — in an African savanna. “A fecal sample provides an amazing window into the biology of a wild animal, from what it eats to what bacteria live in its gut to what kinds of parasites it has,” said Robert Pringle, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the senior author on the study. “We’re just starting to tap into the potential of what forensic DNA-based approaches to wildlife ecology can teach us about these things that have historically been very difficult if not impossible to investigate.”

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