Experimental test of microbiome protection across pathogen doses reveals importance of resident microbiome composition

Chava L. Weitzman, Bahman Rostama, Courtney A. Thomason, Meghan May, Lisa K. Belden, Dana M. Hawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The commensal microbes inhabiting a host tissue can interact with invading pathogens and host physiology in ways that alter pathogen growth and disease manifestation. Prior work in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) found that resident ocular microbiomes were protective against conjunctival infection and disease caused by a relatively high dose of Mycoplasma gallisepticum. Here, we used wild-caught house finches to experimentally examine whether protective effects of the resident ocular microbiome vary with the dose of invading pathogen. We hypothesized that commensal protection would be strongest at low M. gallisepticum inoculation doses because the resident microbiome would be less disrupted by invading pathogen. Our five M. gallisepticum dose treatments were fully factorial with an antibiotic treatment to perturb resident microbes just prior to M. gallisepticum inoculation. Unexpectedly, we found no indication of protective effects of the resident microbiome at any pathogen inoculation dose, which was inconsistent with the prior work. The ocular bacterial communities at the beginning of our experiment differed significantly from those previously reported in local wild-caught house finches, likely causing this discrepancy. These variable results underscore that microbiome-based protection in natural systems can be context dependent, and natural variation in community composition may alter the function of resident microbiomes in free-living animals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiab141
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


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