Although contributions of the equine gut microbiome to forage utilization are well recognized, the impact of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) lignification on the equine gut microbiome remains unknown; thus, we characterized microbial communities in the equine gut when feeding reduced lignin (RL) and conventional (CON) alfalfa hays to adult stock-type horses. Dietary treatments were fed to six horses in a crossover study. Experimental periods consisted of a 9-day dietary adaptation phase followed by a 5-day total fecal collection phase, during which horses were housed in individual box stalls and manure was removed on a continuous 24-hour basis. At 12-hour intervals, manure was mixed, frozen, and processed for V4, 16S rRNA amplicon MiSeq sequencing. Reduced lignin alfalfa did not shift microbiome composition equally across all horses; however, each subject's microbiome responded to hay lignin content in an individualized manner, mostly, in terms of beta diversity. Amplicon sequence variants affiliated to Akkermansia, Fibrobacter succinogenes, Treponema, and Paludibacter fluctuated significantly when RL alfalfa was fed, with abundance patterns unique to each horse. Horse-specific associations between individual gut microbiome traits and characteristics of the digested CON or RL alfalfa were also observed, mainly in regards to dry matter digestibility and mean fecal particle size. These results indicate that the horse gut microbiome responds in an individualized manner to changes in the amount of acid detergent lignin in alfalfa hay, potentially impacting several feed digestibility characteristics. The implications of these horse-specific responses to hay lignification, for metabolic health and performance, remain to be elucidated.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded by funds from the USDA-NIFA Agricultural Experimental station (MIN-16-122) conferred to A.Go and K.M. and startup funds conferred to A.G. by the Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) initiative, University of Minnesota.
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- Fecal microbiome
- Individual response
- Reduced lignin