Global change-driven use of onshore habitat impacts polar bear faecal microbiota

ISME Journal
By: , and 



The gut microbiota plays a critical role in host health, yet remains poorly studied in wild species. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus), key indicators of Arctic ecosystem health and environmental change, are currently affected by rapid shifts in habitat that may alter gut homeostasis. Declining sea ice has led to a divide in the southern Beaufort Sea polar bear subpopulation such that an increasing proportion of individuals now inhabit onshore coastal regions during the open-water period (‘onshore bears’) while others continue to exhibit their typical behaviour of remaining on the ice (‘offshore bears’). We propose that bears that have altered their habitat selection in response to climate change will exhibit a distinct gut microbiota diversity and composition, which may ultimately have important consequences for their health. Here, we perform the first assessment of abundance and diversity in the faecal microbiota of wild polar bears using 16S rRNA Illumina technology. We find that bacterial diversity is significantly higher in onshore bears compared to offshore bears. The majority of unique bacterial taxa for onshore bears belonged to the phyla Proteobacteria (a proposed indicator of poor health in adult humans), whereas for offshore bears, Firmicutes (associated with adiposity) dominated. We conclude that climate-driven changes in polar bear land use are associated with distinct microbial communities. In doing so, we present the first case of global change mediated alterations in the gut microbiota of a free-roaming wild animal.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Global change-driven use of onshore habitat impacts polar bear faecal microbiota
Series title ISME Journal
DOI 10.1038/s41396-019-0480-2
Volume 13
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Nature
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 11 p.
First page 2916
Last page 2926
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Southern Beaufort Sea
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