Greene, L. K., Clarke, T. A., Southworth, C. A. et al. 2020. Daily lettuce supplements promote foraging behavior and modify the gut microbiota in captive frugivores. Zoo Biology 39(5), 334-344.
For captive primates, greater provisioning of leafy greens or foliage can promote natural foraging behavior while boosting fiber intake. Recalcitrant fiber, although minimally available to endogenous metabolism, is readily fermented into nutrients by gut microbes. Whereas most primates in captivity consume fiber-limited diets and harbor imbalanced gut microbiota compared to their wild conspecifics, the importance of fiber provisioning to primate gut microbiota has predominately been studied in folivores. We, therefore, determined if commercial lettuce could be used to encourage foraging behavior and modify the gut microbiota of captive frugivores. We provisioned ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra and V. variegata) with romaine lettuce, on top of the standard dietary fare, for 10 consecutive days. Before and across the period of lettuce supplementation, we collected observational data of animal feeding and fecal samples for microbiome analysis, determined via amplicon sequencing. The ruffed lemurs and their gut microbes responded to lettuce provisioning. In particular, younger animals readily ate lettuce and showed no decline in consumption across study days. When controlling for the effects of host species and social-group membership, lettuce consumption shifted the composition of the gut microbiome away from each lemur's own baseline, an effect that became stronger as the study progressed. In the final study days, Ruminococcaceae UCG-008 and Akkermansia, microbes typically and respectively associated with fiber metabolism and host health, were significantly enriched in the consortia of lettuce-provisioned subjects. Ultimately, the routine offering of lettuce, leafy greens, or foliage to captive frugivores may benefit animal wellbeing.