Research Publication

Microbial communities of wild-captured Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas)

By Kerry L. McNally, Cody R. Mott, Jeffrey R. Guertin, Jennifer L. Bowen

Originally published in Endangered Species Research in May 2021



Conservation efforts for endangered sea turtle species, such as Kemp’s ridley turtles Lepidochelys kempii and green turtles Chelonia mydas, may benefit from information on the microbial communities that contribute to host health. Previous studies examining host-associated microbiomes of these species have been limited in geographic region, life stage, and/or health. Here, we characterized the microbiome of the oral cavity and cloaca from wild-captured Kemp’s ridley and green turtles off the west coast of Florida, USA, by using Illumina sequencing to analyze the 16S rRNA gene. Microbial communities were distinct between body sites as well as between turtle species, suggesting that the turtle species is more important than the local environment in determining the microbiome of sea turtles. We identified the core microbiome for each species at each body site and determined that there were very few bacteria shared among the oral samples of both species, and no taxa co-occurred in the cloaca samples among both species. The core microbiome of the green turtle cloaca was primarily from the order Clostridiales, which plays an important role in digestion for other herbivorous species. Due to high prevalence of fibropapillomatosis in the green turtles (90%), we also investigated the correlation between the microbiome and the severity of fibropapillomatosis, and we identified changes in beta diversity associated with the total number of tumors. This study provides the first glimpse of the microbiome in 2 sympatric species of sea turtle and sheds an important species-specific light on the microbiome of these endangered species.

Full Text


Research That Drives Action

Through pioneering conservation research and strategic partnerships, our team of 40 scientists at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life works to combat the unprecedented impacts on the ocean from climate change and other human activities.