Gut microbiota of a long-distance migrant demonstrates resistance against environmental microbe incursions
Migratory animals encounter suites of novel microbes as they move between disparate sites during their migrations, and are frequently implicated in the global spread of pathogens. Although wild animals have been shown to source a proportion of their gut microbiota from their environment, the susceptibility of migrants to enteric infections may be dependent upon the capacity of their gut microbiota to resist incorporating encountered microbes. To evaluate migrants' susceptibility to microbial invasion, we determined the extent of microbial sourcing from the foraging environment and examined how this influenced gut microbiota dynamics over time and space in a migratory shorebird, the Red-necked stint Calidris ruficollis. Contrary to previous studies on wild, nonmigratory hosts, we found that stint on their nonbreeding grounds obtained very little of their microbiota from their environment, with most individuals sourcing only 0.1% of gut microbes from foraging sediment. This microbial resistance was reflected at the population level by only weak compositional differences between stint flocks occupying ecologically distinct sites, and by our finding that stint that had recently migrated 10,000 km did not differ in diversity or taxonomy from those that had inhabited the same site for a full year. However, recent migrants had much greater abundances of the genus Corynebacterium, suggesting a potential microbial response to either migration or exposure to a novel environment. We conclude that the gut microbiota of stint is largely resistant to invasion from ingested microbes and that this may have implications for their susceptibility to enteric infections during migration.