The gut bacterial microbiota of sea turtles differs between geographically distinct populations

T. Franciscus Scheelings, Robert J. Moore, Thi Thu Hao Van, Marcel Klaassen, Richard D. Reina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The microbiota of metazoans can be influenced by a variety of factors including diet, environment and genetics. In this study we sampled multiple populations from 2 host species that do not overlap in distribution, in order to test whether their bacterial microbiotas are speciesspecific or more variable. Intestinal swabs were collected from loggerhead turtles originating from Florida, USA, and Queensland, Australia, as well as from flatback turtles from Crab Island, Queensland, and Port Hedland, Western Australia. We then manually extracted bacterial DNA and used 16S rRNA sequencing to explore bacterial microbial community composition and structure. Our investigation showed that the bacterial microbiota of sea turtles is heavily influenced by geography, with loggerhead turtles originating from the USA and Australia harbouring significantly different bacterial microbial populations in terms of composition. Similarly, we also found that flatback turtles from Crab Island had significantly less diverse microbiotas, with a predominance of the bacterial phylum Firmicutes, in comparison to their genetically similar counterparts from Port Hedland. Factors that may explain these observed differences between populations include host genetics, differences in foraging habitat quality and differences in migratory distance (and thus durations of inappetence) between foraging and breeding grounds. The mechanisms by which these factors may influence bacterial microbial composition of sea turtle gastrointestinal tracts warrants further investigation. The results of this study highlight the importance of interpreting microbiota data of wild animals in the context of geography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalEndangered Species Research
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Flatback turtle
  • Geography
  • Loggerhead turtle
  • Microbiota

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