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Characterizing the oral and distal gut microbiota of the threatened southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) to enhance conservation practice

January 31, 2022

The southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) is a threatened sub-species in coastal ecosystems. To understand better the role of diet, monitor health, and enhance management of this and other marine mammal species, we characterized the oral (gingival) and distal gut (rectal and fecal) microbiota of 158 wild southern sea otters living off the coast of central California, USA, and 12 captive sea otters, some of which were included in a diet shift experiment. We found that the sea otter fecal microbiota was distinct from that of three other otter species, and that captivity does not significantly alter the community structure of the sea otter gingival or distal gut microbiota. Metagenomic analysis unexpectedly revealed that the majority of sea otter fecal DNA is derived from prey, rather than from indigenous bacteria or host cells as with most other mammals. We speculate that a reduced bacterial biomass in the sea otter gut reflects rapid gut transit time and a particular strategy for foraging and energy harvest. This study establishes a reference for the healthy sea otter microbiota, highlights how a marine lifestyle may shape the mammalian microbiota, and may inform future health assessments and conservation management of sea otter populations.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Characterizing the oral and distal gut microbiota of the threatened southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) to enhance conservation practice
DOI 10.1111/csp2.12640
Authors Natasha K Dudek, Alexandra D Switzer, Elizabeth K Costello, Michael J. Murray, Joseph Tomoleoni, Michelle M. Staedler, M. Tim Tinker, David A Relman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Science and Practice
Series Number
Index ID 70230019
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center

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