Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 102, Issue 15, pp 6739–6751 | Cite as

Diet simplification selects for high gut microbial diversity and strong fermenting ability in high-altitude pikas

  • Huan Li
  • Jiapeng Qu
  • Tongtong Li
  • Stephan Wirth
  • Yanming ZhangEmail author
  • Xinquan Zhao
  • Xiangzhen LiEmail author
Environmental biotechnology


The gut microbiota in mammals plays a key role in host metabolism and adaptation. However, relatively little is known regarding to how the animals adapts to extreme environments through regulating gut microbial diversity and function. Here, we investigated the diet, gut microbiota, short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) profiles, and cellulolytic activity from two common pika (Ochotona spp.) species in China, including Plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae) from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Daurian pika (Ochotona daurica) from the Inner Mongolia Grassland. Despite a partial diet overlap, Plateau pikas harbored lower diet diversity than Daurian pikas. Some bacteria (e.g., Prevotella and Ruminococcus) associated with fiber degradation were enriched in Plateau pikas. They harbored higher gut microbial diversity, total SCFA concentration, and cellulolytic activity than Daurian pikas. Interestingly, cellulolytic activity was positively correlated with the gut microbial diversity and SCFAs. Gut microbial communities and SCFA profiles were segregated structurally between host species. PICRUSt metagenome predictions demonstrated that microbial genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism and energy metabolism were overrepresented in the gut microbiota of Plateau pikas. Our results demonstrate that Plateau pikas harbor a stronger fermenting ability for the plant-based diet than Daurian pikas via gut microbial fermentation. The enhanced ability for utilization of plant-based diets in Plateau pikas may be partly a kind of microbiota adaptation for more energy requirements in cold and hypoxic high-altitude environments.


Pika Diet Gut microbiota SCFA profiles Cellulolytic activity Fermenting ability 



We thank Jon G. Sanders for advice on the manuscript revision. We thank Xiaoyuan Zhang (Chengdu Institute of Biology, CAS) and Haibo Fu (Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, CAS) for their help in sample collection.

Author’s contributions

H.L. designed experiments; H.L., J.Q., T.L., and X.Z. contributed to experimental work; H.L. performed the data analysis and wrote the manuscript. H.L., W.S., Y.Z., and X. L. revised the manuscript.

Funding information

The authors thank the support by National Natural Science Foundation of China (, 41371268 and 41301272).

Compliance with ethical standards

Animal ethics approval for the present project was obtained from the Animal Ethics Committee of Chengdu Institute of Biology. Processing of wild animals and sample collection were strictly congruent with the guidelines of our academic institution.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

253_2018_9097_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (728 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 727 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Occupational Health and Environmental Health, School of Public HealthLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau BiologyChinese Academy of SciencesXiningPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of Applied Biology, College of Biotechnology and BioengineeringZhejiang University of TechnologyHangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)Institute of Landscape BiogeochemistryMunchebergGermany
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Environmental and Applied Microbiology, CAS; Environmental Microbiology Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Chengdu Institute of BiologyChinese Academy of SciencesChengduPeople’s Republic of China

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