In the past decade, studies on the mammalian gut microbiome have revealed that different animal species have distinct gut microbial compositions. The functional ramifications of this variation in microbial composition remain unclear: do these taxonomic differences indicate microbial adaptations to host-specific functionality, or are these diverse microbial communities essentially functionally redundant, as has been indicated by previous metagenomics studies? Here, we examine the metabolic content of mammalian gut microbiomes as a direct window into ecosystem function, using an untargeted metabolomics platform to analyze 101 fecal samples from a range of 25 exotic mammalian species in collaboration with a zoological center. We find that mammalian metabolomes are chemically diverse and strongly linked to microbiome composition, and that metabolome composition is further correlated to the phylogeny of the mammalian host. Specific metabolites enriched in different animal species included modified and degraded host and dietary compounds such as bile acids and triterpenoids, as well as fermentation products such as lactate and short-chain fatty acids. Our results suggest that differences in microbial taxonomic composition are indeed translated to host-specific metabolism, indicating that taxonomically distant microbiomes are more functionally diverse than redundant.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics