Characterization of the Fecal Microbiota of Commercial Mink (Neovison vison)
Mink, obligate carnivores, are the fifth largest livestock commodity group in Canada, with more than 3 million pelts produced annually and an industry valuation at almost $100 million (2015). To date, research in the field of microbiota; the collective, interacting genomes and the symbiotic microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, has focused primarily on herbivores and omnivores, with comparatively few studies carried out in carnivores. The goal of the current study was to characterize the fecal microbiota of farmed mink, Neovison vison. Fecal samples (n=366) were collected from adult females and weaned kits during two consecutive summers in 2014 and 2015 and adult females just before winter breeding in 2016. The V4 regions of the 16S rRNA genes were amplified, sequenced, and classified from extracted fecal bacterial DNA. The most predominant phyla were Firmicutes and Proteobacteria, with all other phyla together comprising <5% of the sequences identified. The relative abundance of Proteobacteria was found to be much higher than previous reports in mammals. Additionally, ranges in the relative abundances of both the predominant and many non-predominant taxa were found to be very large, suggesting that mink are tolerant to a broader community of organisms than has been seen in other mammals. Few differences were identified at each taxonomic level between adult females and weaned kits, though several genera within the families Lactobacillales and Clostridiales were identified to be differentially abundant in weaned kits (p<0.05). The years 2014 and 2016, the two periods that would have had the fewest number of animals in common, had the greatest number of taxa that were different. Farms were generally similar in the predominant phyla and genera from 2014 to 2015. The microbiota can likely be impacted by a range of dietary, environmental, and treatment factors, none of which are understood in mink. This body of work will contribute significantly to our understanding of how these factors impact the fecal microbiota of farmed mink, and the carnivore GI microbiota more generally, with the hope of ultimately utilizing this information to optimize the health, production, and welfare of mink.