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Science of The Total Environment
Volume 790, 2021, 148224

Low-level environmental metal pollution is associated with altered gut microbiota of a wild rodent, the bank vole (Myodes glareolus)

Ilze Brilaa,b, Anton Lavrinienkob, Eugene Tukalenkoa,b,c, Frauke Ecked, Ilia Rodushkine,f, Eva R. Kalliob,g, Tapio Mappesb, Phillip C. Wattsb

Ecology and Genetics Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu 90014, Finland.


Mining and related industries are a major source of metal pollution. In contrast to the well-studied effects of exposure to metals on animal physiology and health, the impacts of environmental metal pollution on the gut microbiota of wild animals are virtually unknown. As the gut microbiota is a key component of host health, it is important to understand whether metal pollution can alter wild animal gut microbiota composition. Using a combination of 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and quantification of metal levels in kidneys, we assessed whether multi-metal exposure (the sum of normalized levels of fifteen metals) was associated with changes in gut microbiota of wild bank voles (Myodes glareolus) from two locations in Finland. Exposure to increased metal load was associated with higher gut microbiota species diversity (α-diversity) and altered community composition (β-diversity), but not dispersion. Multi-metal exposure and increased levels of several metals (Cd, Hg, Pb and Se) were associated with differences in the abundance of microbial taxa, especially those within the families Clostridiales vadinBB60 group, Desulfovibrionaceae, Lachnospiraceae, Muribaculaceae and Ruminococcaceae. Our data indicate that even low-level metal pollution can affect the diversity of microbiota and be associated with deterministic differences in composition of host gut microbiota in wild animal populations. These findings highlight the need to study a broader range of metals and their cocktails that are more representative of the types of environmental exposure experienced by wild animals.

Keywords: Metals, Metal pollution, Microbiome, Environmental pollution, Gut microbiota, Wild animal microbiome.

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