• Gastrointestinal torsions and intussusception in Northern koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) at San Diego Zoo (1976–2012)

      Joyce-Zuniga, Nicole M.; Roesler, Jennifer; Andrus, Chris Hamlin; Sutherland-Smith, Meg; Rideout, Bruce; Pye, Geoffrey W. (2014)
      The recent classification as threatened status of the northern koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) by the Australian Government highlights the importance of the conservation and health management of this iconic Australian marsupial. This case series describes gastrointestinal torsion and intussusception in six northern koalas (three males, three females, 2–11 yr old) at the San Diego Zoo from 1976 to 2012….
    • Gut microbiota and phytoestrogen-associated infertility in southern white rhinoceros

      Williams, Candace L.; Ybarra, Alexis R.; Meredith, Ashley N.; Durrant, Barbara S.; Tubbs, Christopher W. (2019)
      With recent poaching of southern white rhinoceros (SWR [Ceratotherium simum simum]) reaching record levels, the need for a robust assurance population is urgent. However, the global captive SWR population is not currently self-sustaining due to the reproductive failure of captive-born females. Dietary phytoestrogens have been proposed to play a role in this phenomenon, and recent work has demonstrated a negative relationship between diet estrogenicity and fertility of captive-born female SWR. To further examine this relationship, we compared gut microbial communities, fecal phytoestrogens, and fertility of SWR to those of another rhinoceros species—the greater one-horned rhinoceros (GOHR [Rhinoceros unicornis]), which consumes a similar diet but exhibits high levels of fertility in captivity. Using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and mass spectrometry, we identified a species-specific fecal microbiota and three dominant fecal phytoestrogen profiles. These profiles exhibited various levels of estrogenicity when tested in an in vitro estrogen receptor activation assay for both rhinoceros species, with profiles dominated by the microbial metabolite equol stimulating the highest levels of receptor activation. Finally, we found that SWR fertility varies significantly not only with respect to phytoestrogen profile, but also with respect to the abundance of several bacterial taxa and microbially derived phytoestrogen metabolites. Taken together, these data suggest that in addition to species differences in estrogen receptor sensitivity to phytoestrogens, reproductive outcomes may be driven by the gut microbiota’s transformation of dietary phytoestrogens in captive SWR females. IMPORTANCE Southern white rhinoceros (SWR) poaching has reached record levels, and captive infertility has rendered SWR assurance populations no longer self-sustaining. Previous work has identified dietary phytoestrogens as a likely cause of this problem. Here, we investigate the role of gut microbiota in this phenomenon by comparing two rhinoceros species to provide the first characterizations of gut microbiomes for any rhinoceros species. To our knowledge, our approach, combining parallel sequencing, mass spectrometry, and estrogen receptor activation assays, provides insight into the relationship between microbially mediated phytoestrogen metabolism and fertility that is novel for any vertebrate species. With this information, we plan to direct future work aimed at developing strategies to improve captive reproduction in the hope of alleviating their threat of extinction.
    • Metabolome-informed microbiome analysis refines metadata classifications and reveals unexpected medication transfer in captive cheetahs

      Gauglitz, Julia M.; Morton, James T.; Tripathi, Anupriya; Hansen, Shalisa; Gaffney, Michele; Carpenter, Carolina; Weldon, Kelly C.; Shah, Riya; Parampil, Amy; Fidgett, Andrea; et al. (2020)
      Even high-quality collection and reporting of study metadata in microbiome studies can lead to various forms of inadvertently missing or mischaracterized information that can alter the interpretation or outcome of the studies, especially with nonmodel organisms. Metabolomic profiling of fecal microbiome samples can provide empirical insight into unanticipated confounding factors that are not possible to obtain even from detailed care records. We illustrate this point using data from cheetahs from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The metabolomic characterization indicated that one cheetah had to be moved from the non-antibiotic-exposed group to the antibiotic-exposed group. The detection of the antibiotic in this second cheetah was likely due to grooming interactions with the cheetah that was administered antibiotics. Similarly, because transit time for stool is variable, fecal samples within the first few days of antibiotic prescription do not all contain detected antibiotics, and the microbiome is not yet affected. These insights significantly altered the way the samples were grouped for analysis (antibiotic versus no antibiotic) and the subsequent understanding of the effect of the antibiotics on the cheetah microbiome. Metabolomics also revealed information about numerous other medications and provided unexpected dietary insights that in turn improved our understanding of the molecular patterns on the impact on the community microbial structure. These results suggest that untargeted metabolomic data provide empirical evidence to correct records and aid in the monitoring of the health of nonmodel organisms in captivity, although we also expect that these methods may be appropriate for other social animals, such as cats.
    • Wildlife-microbiome interactions and disease: Exploring opportunities for disease mitigation across ecological scales

      Williams, Candace L.; Caraballo-Rodríguez, Andrés Mauricio; Allaband, Celeste; Zarrinpar, Amir; Knight, Rob; Gauglitz, Julia M. (2018)
      … we will examine how the microbiome influences gastrointestinal disorders, metabolic dysregulation, reproduction, and disease susceptibility in captive wildlife. Investigation of wildlife, and specifically captive wildlife, affords a unique opportunity to gain understanding of the broad diversity of the associated microbiota and learn from nature’s molecular and microbial responses to disease. Studies like these could lead to the discovery of new interventions, ranging from dietary changes to the use of microbes or their natural products as treatment…