In this study led by recent PhD graduate Karthik Yarlagadda at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, we looked for evidence for social convergence in vampire bats that clustered, groomed, and shared food. Karthik used shotgun sequencing to measure the microbial similarity of samples from six zoos in the USA, a wild colony in Belize, and three wild colonies in Panama than we experimentally merged into one colony. As one expect, bats from the same group had more similar fecal microbiomes than bats from different groups, and previously unfamiliar Panamanian vampire bats that were captured from distant sites and then introduced into the same captive colony had fecal microbiome similarity that was intermediate between strangers and colonymates. Within the merged group, we also found evidence that gut microbiome similarity increased more in pairs that engaged in more clustering, grooming, and mouthlicking. Our study is another demonstration that social interactions can shape microbiome similarity even when controlling for kinship, environment, and diet.
Yarlagadda K, Razik I, Malhi RS, Carter GG. 2021. Social convergence of gut microbiomes in vampire bats. Biology Letters. 17: 20210389. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2021.0389