• No impact of a short-term climatic "El Niño" fluctuation on gut microbial diversity in populations of the Galápagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus).

      Ibáñez, Alejandro; Bletz, Molly C; Quezada, Galo; Geffers, Robert; Jarek, Michael; Vences, Miguel; Steinfartz, Sebastian; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Springer, 2021-02-02)
      Gut microorganisms are crucial for many biological functions playing a pivotal role in the host's well-being. We studied gut bacterial community structure of marine iguana populations across the Galápagos archipelago. Marine iguanas depend heavily on their specialized gut microbiome for the digestion of dietary algae, a resource whose growth was strongly reduced by severe "El Niño"-related climatic fluctuations in 2015/2016. As a consequence, marine iguana populations showed signs of starvation as expressed by a poor body condition. Body condition indices (BCI) varied between island populations indicating that food resources (i.e., algae) are affected differently across the archipelago during 'El Niño' events. Though this event impacted food availability for marine iguanas, we found that reductions in body condition due to "El Niño"-related starvation did not result in differences in bacterial gut community structure. Species richness of gut microorganisms was instead correlated with levels of neutral genetic diversity in the distinct host populations. Our data suggest that marine iguana populations with a higher level of gene diversity and allelic richness may harbor a more diverse gut microbiome than those populations with lower genetic diversity. Since low values of these diversity parameters usually correlate with small census and effective population sizes, we use our results to propose a novel hypothesis according to which small and genetically less diverse host populations might be characterized by less diverse microbiomes. Whether such genetically depauperate populations may experience additional threats from reduced dietary flexibility due to a limited intestinal microbiome is currently unclear and calls for further investigation.