Host species, pathogens and disease associated with divergent nasal microbial communities in tortoises
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Diverse bacterial communities are found on every surface of macro-organisms, and they play important roles in maintaining normal physiological functions in their hosts. While the study of microbiomes has expanded with the influx of data enabled by recent technological advances, microbiome research in reptiles lags behind other organisms. We sequenced the nasal microbiomes in a sample of four North American tortoise species, and we found differing community compositions among tortoise species and sampling sites, with higher richness and diversity in Texas and Sonoran desert tortoises. Using these data, we investigated the prevalence and operational taxonomic unit (OTU) diversity of the potential pathogen Pasteurella testudinis and found it to be common, abundant and highly diverse. However, the presence of this bacterium was not associated with differences in bacterial community composition within host species. We also found that the presence of nasal discharge from tortoises at the time of sampling was associated with a decline in diversity and a change in microbiome composition, which we posit is due to the harsh epithelial environment associated with immune responses. Repeated sampling across seasons, and at different points of pathogen colonization, should contribute to our understanding of the causes and consequences of different bacterial communities in these long-lived hosts.