The gut microbiome of herbivorous animals consists of organisms that efficiently digest the structural carbohydrates of ingested plant material. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) provide an interesting model of change in these microbial communities because they undergo a pronounced shift from a surface-pelagic distribution and omnivorous diet to a neritic distribution and herbivorous diet. As an alternative to direct sampling of the gut, we investigated the cloacal microbiomes of juvenile green turtles before and after recruitment to neritic waters to observe any changes in their microbial community structure. Cloacal swabs were taken from individual turtles for analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequences using Illumina sequencing. One fecal sample was also obtained, allowing for a preliminary comparison with the bacterial community of the cloaca. We found significant variation in the juvenile green turtle bacterial communities between pelagic and neritic habitats, suggesting that environmental and dietary factors support different bacterial communities in green turtles from these habitats. This is the first study to characterize the cloacal microbiome of green turtles in the context of their ontogenetic shifts, which could provide valuable insight into the origins of their gut bacteria and how the microbial community supports their shift to herbivory.
James T. Price, Frank V. Paladino, Margaret M. Lamont, Blair E. Witherington, Scott T. Bates, and Tanya Soule (2017).
Characterization of the juvenile green turtle (Chelonia mydas) microbiome throughout an ontogenetic shift from pelagic to neritic habitats. PLoS ONE.