Identifying the core microbial community in the gut of fungus-growing termites

S. Otani, A. Mikaelyan, T. Nobre, L.H. Hansen, N.A. Kone, S.J. Sorensen, D.K. Aanen, J.J. Boomsma, A. Brune, M. Poulsen

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98 Citations (Scopus)


Gut microbes play a crucial role in decomposing lignocellulose to fuel termite societies, with protists in the lower termites and prokaryotes in the higher termites providing these services. However, a single basal subfamily of the higher termites, the Macrotermitinae, also domesticated a plant biomass-degrading fungus (Termitomyces), and how this symbiont acquisition has affected the fungus-growing termite gut microbiota has remained unclear. The objective of our study was to compare the intestinal bacterial communities of five genera (nine species) of fungus-growing termites to establish whether or not an ancestral core microbiota has been maintained and characterizes extant lineages. Using 454-pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, we show that gut communities have representatives of 26 bacterial phyla and are dominated by Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Spirochaetes, Proteobacteria and Synergistetes. A set of 42 genus-level taxa was present in all termite species and accounted for 56–68% of the species-specific reads. Gut communities of termites from the same genus were more similar than distantly related species, suggesting that phylogenetic ancestry matters, possibly in connection with specific termite genus-level ecological niches. Finally, we show that gut communities of fungus-growing termites are similar to cockroaches, both at the bacterial phylum level and in a comparison of the core Macrotermitinae taxa abundances with representative cockroach, lower termite and higher nonfungus-growing termites. These results suggest that the obligate association with Termitomyces has forced the bacterial gut communities of the fungus-growing termites towards a relatively uniform composition with higher similarity to their omnivorous relatives than to more closely related termites
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4631-4644
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • feeding higher termite
  • bacterial community
  • phylogenetic analysis
  • functional-analysis
  • macrotermes-gilvus
  • lignin degradation
  • nasutitermes spp.
  • sp-nov.
  • diversity
  • hindgut


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