Article open access publication

Evaluating the impact of domestication and captivity on the horse gut microbiome

Scientific Reports, Springer Nature, ISSN 2045-2322

Volume 7, 1, 2017

DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-15375-9, Dimensions: pub.1092599572, PMC: PMC5686199, PMID: 29138485,



  1. (1) Colorado State University, grid.47894.36
  2. (2) University of California, San Diego, grid.266100.3
  3. (3) University of Colorado Boulder, grid.266190.a
  4. (4) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
  5. (5) Tour du Valat, grid.452794.9
  6. (6) Laboratoire d'Écologie Alpine, grid.462909.0
  7. (7) Laboratoire d’Anthropobiologie Moléculaire et d’Imagerie de Synthèse (AMIS), CNRS UMR 5288, Université de Toulouse, Université Paul Sabatier, 31000, Toulouse, France


The mammal gut microbiome, which includes host microbes and their respective genes, is now recognized as an essential second genome that provides critical functions to the host. In humans, studies have revealed that lifestyle strongly influences the composition and diversity of the gastrointestinal microbiome. We hypothesized that these trends in humans may be paralleled in mammals subjected to anthropogenic forces such as domestication and captivity, in which diets and natural life histories are often greatly modified. We investigated fecal microbiomes of Przewalski's horse (PH; Equus ferus przewalskii), the only horses alive today not successfully domesticated by humans, and herded, domestic horse (E. f. caballus) living in adjacent natural grasslands. We discovered PH fecal microbiomes hosted a distinct and more diverse community of bacteria compared to domestic horses, which is likely partly explained by different plant diets as revealed by trnL maker data. Within the PH population, four individuals were born in captivity in European zoos and hosted a strikingly low diversity of fecal microbiota compared to individuals born in natural reserves in France and Mongolia. These results suggest that anthropogenic forces can dramatically reshape equid gastrointestinal microbiomes, which has broader implications for the conservation management of endangered mammals.


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