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Does intestinal microbiome diversity in wild and captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus) is influenced by habitat?
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  • Anisha Padur Sankaranarayanan,
  • Sangavi Dhanapal,
  • Mahandran Valliyappan,
  • Shyu Douglas J. H. ,
  • Thiruchenthil Nathan Parthasarathy
Anisha Padur Sankaranarayanan
Periyar University
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Sangavi Dhanapal
Periyar University
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Mahandran Valliyappan
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
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Shyu Douglas J. H.
National Pingtung University of Science and Technology
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Thiruchenthil Nathan Parthasarathy
Periyar University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Abstract

The gut microbiome plays an important role in the physical and mental wellbeing of animals. This depends on several factors like diet, host physiology, age, gender, lifestyle and habitat. We studied the gut microbiome of endangered Asian elephant Elephas maximus indicus in two diverse habitats, namely captivity and wild. A total of 22 phylum lodging 97 orders and 208 families have been identified using 16S rRNA sequencing in which 90% of them belong to Phylum Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes. Among them, a 2-fold increase of Phylum Verrucomicrobia in captive elephants than the wild counterparts suggest humanising of the elephant’s gut microbiome in captivity. On the other hand, a 10-fold decrease in the relative abundance of the Family Planococcaceae in captive elephants implies stress due to isolation in captivity. Elusimicrobia, Lentisphaerae, and Spirochaetes found exclusively in captives were previously reported to be pathogenic and are an indication of anthropogenic contamination in captive elephant’s gut microbiome. Since the elephants in captivity have an increased chance of contact with humans, it may lead to a radical shift in quantitative and qualitative gut microbiome composition in captive elephants. Interestingly, the gut microbiome of wild samples was more even and stable compared to captive elephants. Altogether, this study reports the massive variation present in the gut microbiome diversity between captive and wild elephants. Besides, this also emphasizes the necessity of further studies on the gut microbiome of elephants based on the dietary variation that may be helpful for the conservation of these endangered mega gardeners.