Microbiome assembly of avian eggshells and their potential as transgenerational carriers of maternal microbiota

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

13 Citaten (Scopus)


The microbiome is essential for development, health and homeostasis throughout an animal's life. Yet, the origins and transmission processes governing animal microbiomes remain elusive for non-human vertebrates, oviparous vertebrates in particular. Eggs may function as transgenerational carriers of the maternal microbiome, warranting characterisation of egg microbiome assembly. Here, we investigated maternal and environmental contributions to avian eggshell microbiota in wild passerine birds: woodlark Lullula arborea and skylark Alauda arvensis. Using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, we demonstrated in both lark species, at the population and within-nest levels, that bacterial communities of freshly laid eggs were distinct from the female cloacal microbiome. Instead, soil-borne bacteria appeared to thrive on freshly laid eggs, and eggshell microbiota composition strongly resembled maternal skin, body feather and nest material communities, sources in direct contact with laid eggs. Finally, phylogenetic structure analysis and microbial source tracking underscored species sorting from directly contacting sources rather than in vivo-transferred symbionts. The female-egg-nest system allowed an integrative assessment of avian egg microbiome assembly, revealing mixed modes of symbiont acquisition not previously documented for vertebrate eggs. Our findings illuminated egg microbiome origins, which suggested a limited potential of eggshells for transgenerational transmission, encouraging further investigation of eggshell microbiome functions in vertebrates.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)1375-1388
Aantal pagina's14
TijdschriftThe ISME journal
Nummer van het tijdschrift5
Vroegere onlinedatum14-feb-2018
StatusPublished - mei-2018

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