Gut microbiota of homing pigeons shows summer–winter variation under constant diet indicating a substantial effect of temperature

Maurine W. Dietz*, K.D. Matson*, Maaike A. Versteegh, Marco van der Velde, H.K. Parmentier, J.A.J. Arts, Joana Falcão Salles, B.I. Tieleman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Gut microbiotas play a pivotal role in host physiology and behaviour, and may affect host life-history traits such as seasonal variation in host phenotypic state. Generally, seasonal gut microbiota variation is attributed to seasonal diet variation. However, seasonal temperature and day length variation may also drive gut microbiota variation. We investigated summer–winter differences in the gut bacterial community (GBC) in 14 homing pigeons living outdoors under a constant diet by collecting cloacal swabs in both seasons during two years. Because temperature effects may be mediated by host metabolism, we determined basal metabolic rate (BMR) and body mass. Immune competence is influenced by day length and has a close relationship with the GBC, and it may thus be a link between day length and gut microbiota. Therefore, we measured seven innate immune indices. We expected the GBC to show summer–winter differences and to correlate with metabolism and immune indices.

BMR, body mass, and two immune indices varied seasonally, other host factors did not. The GBC showed differences between seasons and sexes, and correlated with metabolism and immune indices. The most abundant genus (Lachnoclostridium 12, 12%) and associated higher taxa, were more abundant in winter, though not significantly at the phylum level, Firmicutes. Bacteroidetes were more abundant in summer. The Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes ratio tended to be higher in winter. The KEGG ortholog functions for fatty acid biosynthesis and linoleic acid metabolism (PICRUSt2) had increased abundances in winter.

The GBC of homing pigeons varied seasonally, even under a constant diet. The correlations between immune indices and the GBC did not involve consistently specific immune indices and included only one of the two immune indices that showed seasonal differences, suggesting that immune competence may be an unlikely link between day length and the GBC. The correlations between the GBC and metabolism indices, the higher Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes ratio in winter, and the resemblance of the summer–winter differences in the GBC with the general temperature effects on the GBC in the literature, suggest that temperature partly drove the summer–winter differences in the GBC in homing pigeons.
Original languageEnglish
Article number64
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2022


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