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Phylogenetic analysis of faecal microbiota from captive cheetahs reveals underrepresentation of Bacteroidetes and Bifidobacteriaceae

Anne AMJ Becker12*, Myriam Hesta2, Joke Hollants1, Geert PJ Janssens2 and Geert Huys13

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Microbiology, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Faculty of Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Animal Nutrition, Department of Nutrition, Genetics and Ethology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Merelbeke, Belgium

3 BCCM/LMG Bacteria Collection, Faculty of Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-43

Published: 18 February 2014



Imbalanced feeding regimes may initiate gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases in endangered felids kept in captivity such as cheetahs. Given the crucial role of the host’s intestinal microbiota in feed fermentation and health maintenance, a better understanding of the cheetah’s intestinal ecosystem is essential for improvement of current feeding strategies. We determined the phylogenetic diversity of the faecal microbiota of the only two cheetahs housed in an EAZA associated zoo in Flanders, Belgium, to gain first insights in the relative distribution, identity and potential role of the major community members.


Taxonomic analysis of 16S rRNA gene clone libraries (702 clones) revealed a microbiota dominated by Firmicutes (94.7%), followed by a minority of Actinobacteria (4.3%), Proteobacteria (0.4%) and Fusobacteria (0.6%). In the Firmicutes, the majority of the phylotypes within the Clostridiales were assigned to Clostridium clusters XIVa (43%), XI (38%) and I (13%). Members of the Bacteroidetes phylum and Bifidobacteriaceae, two groups that can positively contribute in maintaining intestinal homeostasis, were absent in the clone libraries and detected in only marginal to low levels in real-time PCR analyses.


This marked underrepresentation is in contrast to data previously reported in domestic cats where Bacteroidetes and Bifidobacteriaceae are common residents of the faecal microbiota. Next to methodological differences, these findings may also reflect the apparent differences in dietary habits of both felid species. Thus, our results question the role of the domestic cat as the best available model for nutritional intervention studies in endangered exotic felids.

Bacterial community sequencing; Exotic felids; Wildlife conservation; Zoo nutrition