Ontogenetic development of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the marine herbivorous fish Kyphosus sydneyanus

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Molecular techniques were used to investigate the composition and ontogenetic development of the intestinal bacterial community in the marine herbivorous fish Kyphosus sydneyanus from the north eastern coast of New Zealand. Previous work showed that K. sydneyanus maintains an exclusively algivorous diet throughout post-settlement life and passes through an ontogenetic diet shift from a juvenile diet which is readily digestible to an adult diet high in refractory algal metabolites. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis was used to investigate the relationship between bacterial community structure and fish size. Bacterial diversity was higher in posterior gut sections than anterior gut sections, and in larger fish than in smaller fish. Partial sequencing of bacterial 16S rDNA genes PCR amplified and cloned from intestine content samples was used to identify the phylogenetic affiliation of dominant gastrointestinal bacteria. Phylogenetic analysis of clones showed that most formed a clade within the genus Clostridium, with one clone associated with the parasitic mycoplasmas. No bacteria were specific to a particular intestinal section or size class of host, though some appeared more dominant than others and were established in smaller fishes. Clones closely related to C. lituseburense were particularly dominant in most intestine content samples. All bacteria identified in the intestinal samples were phylogenetically related to those possessing fermentative type metabolism. Short-chain fatty acids in intestinal fluid samples increased from 15.6 ± 2.1 mM in fish <100 mm to 51.6 ± 5.5 mM in fish >300 mm. The findings of this study support the hypothesis that the ontogenetic diet shift of K. sydneyanus is accompanied by an increase in the diversity of intestinal microbial symbionts capable of degrading refractory algal metabolites into short-chain fatty acids, which can then be assimilated by the host.


  • Damian Moran
  • S. J. Turner
  • K. D. Clements
External organisations
  • External Organization - Unknown
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-597
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographic note