Microbiome structure in large pelagic sharks with distinct feeding ecologies

Published on
04 March 2022

Microbiome structure in large pelagic sharks with distinct feeding ecologies

Pratte ZA, Perry C, Dove ADM, Hoopes LA, Ritchie KB, Hueter RE, Fischer C, Newton AL, Stewart FJ.


Background: Sharks play essential roles in ocean food webs and human culture, but also face population declines worldwide due to human activity. The relationship between sharks and the microbes on and in the shark body is unclear, despite research on other animals showing the microbiome as intertwined with host physiology, immunity, and ecology. Research on shark-microbe interactions faces the significant challenge of sampling the largest and most elusive shark species. We leveraged a unique sampling infrastructure to compare the microbiomes of two apex predators, the white (Carcharodon carcharias) and tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), to those of the filter-feeding whale shark (Rhincodon typus), allowing us to explore the effects of feeding mode on intestinal microbiome diversity and metabolic function, and environmental exposure on the diversity of microbes external to the body (on the skin, gill).

Results: The fecal microbiomes of white and whale sharks were highly similar in taxonomic and gene category composition despite differences in host feeding mode and diet. Fecal microbiomes from these species were also taxon-poor compared to those of many other vertebrates and were more similar to those of predatory teleost fishes and toothed whales than to those of filter-feeding baleen whales. In contrast, microbiomes of external body niches were taxon-rich and significantly influenced by diversity in the water column microbiome.

Conclusions: These results suggest complex roles for host identity, diet, and environmental exposure in structuring the shark microbiome and identify a small, but conserved, number of intestinal microbial taxa as potential contributors to shark physiology.

Anim Microbiome. 2022 Mar 4;4(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s42523-022-00168-x. PMID: 35246276; PMCID: PMC8895868.


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