Microbial symbiosis and coevolution of an entire clade of ancient vertebrates: the gut microbiota of sea turtles and its relationship to their phylogenetic history

Titus Franciscus Scheelings, Robert J. Moore, Thi Thu Hao Van, Marcel Klaasen, Richard D. Reina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The microbiota plays a critical role in host homeostasis and has been shown to be a major driving force in host evolution. However, our understanding of these important relationships is hampered by a lack of data for many species, and by significant gaps in sampling of the evolutionary tree. In this investigation we improve our understanding of the host-microbiome relationship by obtaining samples from all seven extant species of sea turtle, and correlate microbial compositions with host evolutionary history.

Our analysis shows that the predominate phyla in the microbiota of nesting sea turtles was Proteobacteria. We also demonstrate a strong relationship between the bacterial phyla SR1 and sea turtle phylogeny, and that sea turtle microbiotas have changed very slowly over time in accordance with their similarly slow phenotypic changes.

This is one of the most comprehensive microbiota studies to have been performed in a single clade of animals and further improves our knowledge of how microbial populations have influenced vertebrate evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2020


  • evolution
  • microbiota
  • phylogeny
  • sea turtle

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