Abstract: Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are marine mammals that obtain nutrients through hindgut fermentation of seagrass, however, the microbes responsible have not been identified. This study used denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and 454-pyrosequencing to profile hindgut bacterial communities in wild dugongs. Faecal samples obtained from 32 wild dugongs representing four size/maturity classes, and two captive dugongs fed on cos lettuce were screened using DGGE. Partial 16S rRNA gene profiles of hindgut bacteria from wild dugong calves and juveniles were grouped together and were different to those in subadults and adults. Marked differences between hindgut bacterial communities of wild and captive dugongs were also observed, except for a single captive whose profile resembled wild adults following an unsuccessful reintroduction to the wild. Pyrosequencing of hindgut communities in two wild dugongs confirmed the stability of bacterial populations, and Firmicutes (average 75.6% of Operational Taxonomic Units [OTUs]) and Bacteroidetes (19.9% of OTUs) dominated. Dominant genera were Roseburia, Clostridium, and Bacteroides. Hindgut microbial composition and diversity in wild dugongs is affected by ontogeny and probably diet. In captive dugongs, the absence of the dominant bacterial DNA bands identified in wild dugongs is probably dependent upon prevailing diet and other captive conditions such as the use of antibiotics. This study represents a first step in the characterisation of a novel microbial ecosystem—the marine hindgut of Sirenia.

Key Words: Dugong, Dugong dugon, bacteria, hindgut, DGGE, pyrosequencing, Sirenia, captives, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Moreton Bay

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.38.4.2012.402

Page Numbers: 402-411

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