Nav: Home

The surprising reason why some lemurs may be more sensitive to forest loss

June 13, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University scientists have given us another way to tell which endangered lemur species are most at risk from deforestation -- based on the trillions of bacteria that inhabit their guts.

In a new study, researchers compared the gut microbes of 12 lemur species across the island of Madagascar, where thousands of acres of forest are cleared each year to make way for crops and pastures.

The team found that some lemurs harbor microbes that are more specialized than others for the forests where they live, to help lemurs digest their leafy diets.

One thing that could make it more difficult for such lemurs to adapt to fragmented forests or new locales in the wake of habitat change, the findings suggest, may be their ability to digest the specific mix of plants that grow there.

The study was published June 12 in the journal Biology Letters.

Researchers are trying to tease apart the influence of various factors that shape the balance of microbes in the gut, in part because of studies showing that an animal's gut microbiome affects its health.

"Gut microbes perform crucial functions," said first author Lydia Greene, who conducted the research as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at Duke.

Led by Greene and professor of evolutionary anthropology Christine Drea, the study compared the gut microbiomes of 12 species representing two branches of the lemur family tree, brown lemurs and sifaka lemurs.

Both groups of lemurs eat plant-based diets culled from hundreds of species of trees. But while brown lemurs eat mostly fruit, sifakas are known for the ability to eat leaves full of fiber and tannins. Sifakas' intestines are teeming with mostly friendly bacteria that help them break down the tough leaves they eat, turning plant fiber into nutrients the lemurs use to stay healthy.

Using feces collected by a network of lemur-tracking colleagues working at seven sites across Madagascar, the team sequenced the DNA of gut bacteria from 128 lemurs to figure out which microbes were present.

The stool samples revealed striking differences. The fruit-eating brown lemurs harbored similar collections of gut microbes regardless of where they lived on the island. But the microbial makeup inside the guts of the leaf-eating sifakas varied from place to place, and in ways that couldn't be attributed to genetic relatedness between lemur species. Instead, what mattered most was where they lived: Microbes that were common in lemurs living in dry forest were rare or absent in rainforest dwellers, and vice versa.

The patterns they found may also explain "why so many brown lemurs have adapted to captivity, but only one species of sifaka" has been successfully reared in zoos and sanctuaries, Greene said.

"They have specialized diets and are completely reliant on having the right microbes" to extract nutrients and energy from the food they eat, Greene said.

"If you look at any one of these fruit-eating species and take away its forest, theoretically it could move next door," Drea said. "The leaf specialists may not be able to."
This research was funded by the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and Duke University.

CITATION: "Local Habitat, Not Phylogenetic Relatedness, Predicts Gut Microbiota Better Within Folivorous Than Frugivorous Lemur Lineages," Lydia K. Greene, Jonathan B. Clayton, Ryan S. Rothman, Brandon P. Semel, Meredith A. Semel, Thomas R. Gillespie, Patricia C. Wright and Christine M. Drea. Biology Letters, June 12, 2019.

Duke University

Related Bacteria Articles:

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.
Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.