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Panda Gut Seasonality

Pandas' gut microbiomes change as the seasons do, according to Discover's Inkfish blog.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences tracked collared giant pandas living in the Foping Nature Reserve in China to collect 31 fecal samples for analysis, as they describe in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. At the same time, they also collected samples of bamboo, a panda dietary staple.

Thirteen of these panda fecal samples were collected between September and April when pandas typically eat leaves from the bamboo Bashania fargesii, 11 were from May to July when they eat B. fargesii and Fargesia qinlingensis shoots, and seven were from the transition periods between those times.

As the pandas' diets changed, so did the makeup of their gut microbiome, the researchers found. When they ate more shoots, their gut microbiomes were richer and more diverse than when they ate leaves, the researchers say. Additionally, during the shoot-eating stage, the panda gut microbiome was enriched for genes involved in prokaryotic secretion and signal transduction activity, suggesting coordination between the host and gut microbes, the researchers say.

"We suggest that the gut microbiome plays an essential role in nutrition utilization in the giant panda, and that this forms yet another adaptation to their exclusive bamboo diet," the researchers write in their paper.