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Gut microbiome adaptation to extreme cold winter in wild plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Update time: 01/19/2021
 The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a harsh environment characterized by low temperature, high altitude and hypoxia, although some native mammals may adapt well to the extreme climate. However, how animal gut microbial community structure and function adapt to extreme cold climates is not well understood. Plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) is an ideal animal model with which to study the effects of climate change on host adaptation by studing intestinal microorganisms. Here, we used 16S rRNA sequencing technology combined with physiological methods to investigate plateau pika gut microbiota in summer and winter. Due to limited diet resources, the pikas in winter have a lower ability of degradation and fermentation for plant-based food (reduced cellulase activity and total short-chain fatty acids) by decreasing gut microbial diversity and some functional microbes, such as fiber-degrading bacteria Oscillospira and Treponema. Metagenomic prediction showed that most of those gene functions associated with metabolism (e.g. energy metabolism and lipid metabolism) were less abundant in winter, implying that the plateau pika slows diet fermentation and weakens energy requirements in the cold season. Our results have significance for explaining the mechanism of wild plateau mammals adapting to a high-altitude cold environment from the perspective of gut microbiome.