The Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, is a hindgut-fermenting herbivore. In winter, manatees migrate to warm water overwintering sites where they undergo dietary shifts and may suffer from cold-induced stress. Given these seasonally induced changes in diet, the present study aimed to examine variation in the hindgut bacterial communities of wild manatees overwintering at Crystal River, west Florida. Faeces were sampled from 36 manatees of known sex and body size in early winter when manatees were newly arrived and then in mid-winter and late winter when diet had probably changed and environmental stress may have increased. Concentrations of faecal cortisol metabolite, an indicator of a stress response, were measured by enzyme immunoassay. Using 454-pyrosequencing, 2027 bacterial operational taxonomic units were identified in manatee faeces following amplicon pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene V3/V4 region. Classified sequences were assigned to eight previously described bacterial phyla; only 0.36% of sequences could not be classified to phylum level. Five core phyla were identified in all samples. The majority (96.8%) of sequences were classified as Firmicutes (77.3 ± 11.1% of total sequences) or Bacteroidetes (19.5 ± 10.6%). Alpha-diversity measures trended towards higher diversity of hindgut microbiota in manatees in mid-winter compared to early and late winter. Beta-diversity measures, analysed through permanova, also indicated significant differences in bacterial communities based on the season.
Additional publication details
Variation in the hindgut microbial communities of the Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris over winter in Crystal River, Florida