What is it about?

To increase our knowledge on factors impacting the viability and health of this endangered species, we studied the gut microbiota in 32 individual Bengal tigers from three geographically separated areas (Chitwan National Park (CNP), Bardia National Park (BNP) and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR)) in Nepal, using noninvasive genetic sampling methods. Gut microbiota influence the immune system, impact various physiological functions, and modulates metabolic reactions, that ultimately impact the host health, behavior and development. Across the tiger populations in Nepal, we found significant differences in the composition of microbial communities based on their geographic locations. We conclude the tiger population structure, gut microbiota profile and associated functional metabolic categories are correlated, with geographically most separated CNP and SWR tiger population having the most distinct and different host genotype and microbiota profiles. Our work dramatically expands the understanding of tiger microbiota in wild populations and provides a valuable case study on how to investigate genetic diversity at different hierarchical levels, including hosts as well as their microbial communities.

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Why is it important?

The extent to which habitat loss and fragmentation alter the gut microbiota and in turn impact the health of endangered wildlife is largely unknown. Small isolated wildlife populations may not only have low genetic diversity but also have a low gut microbial diversity with an altered functionality that could adversely impact the health of these animals and potentially increase the risk of local extinction. As part of the Nepal Tiger Genome Project (NTGP), we conducted one of the largest microbiota surveys of a wild carnivore spanning three populations with different degrees of connectivity and human visitation. We take advantage of data of likely prey species to help untangle the drivers of microbial community structure and assess what role phylosymbiosis plays in structuring the tiger microbiota. This study increased our knowledge of tiger gut microbiota and the information could contribute towards the development of a more comprehensive strategy to conserve and manage wild tiger populations occurring across fragmented landscapes.


Nepal Tiger Genome Project was a collaborative effort, and it was so wonderful to work with all the co-authors of this study who contributed tremendously in all aspects of the study- from field work, lab processing to bioinformatic analysis. Getting this out to the scientific community through PLoS One has been a very rewarding experience.

Dr Dibesh Karmacharya
Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal

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This page is a summary of: Gut microbiota and their putative metabolic functions in fragmented Bengal tiger population of Nepal, PLoS ONE, August 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0221868.
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