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The Microbiome of Leaf-Nosed Bats

Source:  Neslihan Tas and Dan Hawkes

Photo courtesy of Mario Carrillo-Araujo
Neslihan Taş

As the only flying mammals, bats are unique model organisms by which to study the impact of host life style and environmental factors on gut development. And among bats, Phyllostomidae, the New World leaf-nosed bat family found in all the Americas (from the southern U.S. and northern Mexico to Argentina), are the most ecologically diverse family. These bats have a remarkable evolutionary diversification of dietary strategies, from insectivory (as the ancestral trait which diverged about ~23–26 million years ago) to a wide array of diets, including blood, meat from small vertebrates, nectar, fruit, and complex omnivorous mixtures.

ESD ecologist Neslihan Taş was one of the leading authors of a recently published paper—in the online, open access journal Frontiers in Microbiology—studying the relationship between different Phyllostomidae feeding strategies and host microbiome composition. The importance of dietary habits over host phylogeny on gut microbiome is an ongoing scientific discussion. Where many studies suggest that host phylogeny influences microbiome composition over other factors, including dietary and environmental factors, others argue that diet strongly influences microbiome composition.

In collaboration with a team from the National University of Mexico led by Luisa Falcón, Taş’s team studied bats from two caves in central-southern Mexico, as part of thesis work by Mario Carrillo-Araujo. The teams performed molecular microbial analysis of bat gut microbiomes and used a sequencing technology to identify microorganisms. The teams found that while bat feeding strategy was important, Phyllostomidae gut microbiome composition is more directly a function of host phylogeny.

Photo courtesy of Mario Carrillo-Araujo

Taş noted that this work could be seen as an effort to test the well-known expression “we are what we eat.” While this work suggested a tentative confirmation of this idea, “determining how universal this expression is,” she said, “will need more research.” She went on to express enthusiasm about studying wildlife microbiomes and finding new ways to use this information to conserve and improve the quality of wildlife. “Many attempts to reintroduce endangered species back to the wild have not succeeded. It is intriguing to think that the fitness of their microbiome might be of importance for survival in the wild after reintroduction.”

To read the paper, go to:

Citation: Carrillo-Araujo, M., N. Taş, R.J. Alcántara-Hernández, O. Gaona, J.E. Schondube, R.A. Medellín, J.K. Jansson, and L.I. Falcon (2015), Phyllostomid bat microbiome composition is associated to host phylogeny and feeding strategies. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6 (2), 447.