Vertebrate host phylogeny influences gut archaeal diversity

Nicholas D Youngblut, Georg H Reischer, Silke Dauser, Sophie Maisch, Chris Walzer, Gabrielle Stalder, Andreas H Farnleitner, Ruth E Ley

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

27 Citations (Scopus)


Commonly used 16S rRNA gene primers do not detect the full range of archaeal diversity present in the vertebrate gut. As a result, several questions regarding the archaeal component of the gut microbiota remain, including which Archaea are host-associated, the specificities of such associations and the major factors influencing archaeal diversity. Using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing with primers that specifically target Archaea, we obtained sufficient sequence data from 185 gastrointestinal samples collected from 110 vertebrate species that span five taxonomic classes (Mammalia, Aves, Reptilia, Amphibia and Actinopterygii), of which the majority were wild. We provide evidence for previously undescribed Archaea-host associations, including Bathyarchaeia and Methanothermobacter, the latter of which was prevalent among Aves and relatively abundant in species with higher body temperatures, although this association could not be decoupled from host phylogeny. Host phylogeny explained archaeal diversity more strongly than diet, while specific taxa were associated with both factors, and cophylogeny was significant and strongest for mammalian herbivores. Methanobacteria was the only class predicted to be present in the last common ancestors of mammals and all host species. Further analysis indicated that Archaea-Bacteria interactions have a limited effect on archaeal diversity. These findings expand our current understanding of Archaea-vertebrate associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443-1454
Number of pages12
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Animals
  • Archaea/classification
  • Biodiversity
  • Birds/microbiology
  • DNA, Archaeal/genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Host Specificity
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S/genetics
  • Reptiles/microbiology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Vertebrates/classification


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