Effect of age and the individual on the gastrointestinal bacteriome of ponies fed a high-starch diet

Philippa K Morrison*, Jamie Newbold, Eleanor Jones, Hilary J Worgan, Dai H Grove-White, Alexandra H Dugdale, Clare Barfoot, Patricia A Harris, Caroline McG Argo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals are crucial for the digestion of dietary nutrients. Bacterial community composition is modified by age and diet in other species. Although horses are adapted to consuming fibre-based diets, high-energy, often high-starch containing feeds are increasingly used. The current study assessed the impact of age on the faecal bacteriome of ponies transitioning from a hay-based diet to a high-starch diet. Over two years, 23 Welsh Section A pony mares were evaluated (Controls, 5-15 years, n = 6/year, 12 in total; Aged, ≥19 years, n = 6 Year 1; n = 5 Year 2, 11 in total). Across the same 30-week (May to November) period in each year, animals were randomly assigned to a 5-week period of study and were individually fed the same hay to maintenance (2% body mass as daily dry matter intake) for 4-weeks. During the final week, 2g starch per kg body mass (micronized steam-flaked barley) was incorporated into the diet (3-day transition and 5 days at maximum). Faecal samples were collected for 11 days (final 3 days hay and 8 days hay + barley feeding). Bacterial communities were determined using Ion Torrent Sequencing of amplified V1-V2 hypervariable regions of 16S rRNA. Age had a minimal effect on the bacteriome response to diet. The dietary transition increased Candidatus Saccharibacteria and Firmicutes phyla abundance and reduced Fibrobactres abundance. At the genera level, Streptococcus abundance was increased but not consistently across individual animals. Bacterial diversity was reduced during dietary transition in Streptococcus 'responders'. Faecal pH and VFA concentrations were modified by diet but considerable inter-individual variation was present. The current study describes compositional changes in the faecal bacteriome associated with the transition from a fibre-based to a high-starch diet in ponies and emphasises the individual nature of dietary responses, which may reflect functional differences in the bacterial populations present in the hindgut.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0232689
Number of pages22
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Early online date8 May 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - May 2020


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