Identification of Specialists and Abundance-Occupancy Relationships among Intestinal Bacteria of Aves, Mammalia, and Actinopterygii. Academic Article uri icon


  • The coalescence of next-generation DNA sequencing methods, ecological perspectives, and bioinformatics analysis tools is rapidly advancing our understanding of the evolution and function of vertebrate-associated bacterial communities. Delineation of host-microbe associations has applied benefits ranging from clinical treatments to protecting our natural waters. Microbial communities follow some broad-scale patterns observed for macroorganisms, but it remains unclear how the specialization of intestinal vertebrate-associated communities to a particular host environment influences broad-scale patterns in microbial abundance and distribution. We analyzed the V6 region of 16S rRNA genes amplified from 106 fecal samples spanning Aves, Mammalia, and Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish). We investigated the interspecific abundance-occupancy relationship, where widespread taxa tend to be more abundant than narrowly distributed taxa, among operational taxonomic units (OTUs) within and among host species. In a separate analysis, we identified specialist OTUs that were highly abundant in a single host and rare in all other hosts by using a multinomial model without excluding undersampled OTUs a priori. We show that intestinal microbes in humans and other vertebrates display abundance-occupancy relationships, but because intestinal host-associated communities have undergone intense specialization, this trend is violated by a disproportionately large number of specialist taxa. Although it is difficult to distinguish the effects of dispersal limitations, host selection, historical contingency, and stochastic processes on community assembly, results suggest that intestinal bacteria can be shared among diverse hosts in ways that resemble the distribution of "free-living" bacteria in the extraintestinal environment.

publication date

  • December 28, 2015