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Uncovering the microbiome of invasive sympatric European brown hares and European rabbits in Australia


Date: 6th November 2019 | Source: BioRxiv

Authors: Somasundhari Shanmuganandam, Yiheng Hu, Tanja Strive, Benjamin Schwessinger, Robyn N. Hall.

European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) and European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are invasive pest species in Australia, with rabbits having a substantially larger environmental impact than hares. As their spatial distribution in Australia partially overlaps, we conducted a comparative microbiome study to determine how the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiota varies between these species, since this may indicate species differences in diet, physiology, and other internal and external factors. We analysed the faecal microbiome of wild hares and rabbits from a sympatric environment, additionally comparing Illumina and Nanopore sequencing platforms. The faecal microbiomes varied significantly between hares and rabbits, despite both species occupying a similar habitat. Moreover, we identified significantly more variation in faecal microbiome composition between individual rabbits compared to hares. The faecal microbiome in both species was dominated by the phyla Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, typical of many vertebrates. Many phyla, including Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, and Patescibacteria, were shared between rabbits and hares. In contrast, bacteria from phylum Verrucomicrobia were present only in rabbits, while phyla Lentisphaerae and Synergistetes were represented only in hares. We did not identify phylum Spirochetes in Australian hares; this phylum was previously shown to be present at high relative abundance in European hare faecal samples. These differences in the faecal microbiota between hares and rabbits in Australia may be associated with differences in diet, and potentially behaviour, of the host species in their non-native range, which may influence the environmental impacts that these species have in Australia.

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