Dietary supplementation of usnic acid, an antimicrobial compound in lichens, does not affect rumen bacterial diversity or density in reindeer.
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Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) may include large proportions of lichens in their winter diet. These dietary lichens are rich in phenolic secondary compounds, the most well-known being the antimicrobial usnic acid. Previous studies have shown that reindeer host rumen bacteria resistant to usnic acid and that usnic acid is quickly detoxified in their rumen. In the present study, reindeer (n = 3) were sampled before, during, and after usnic acid supplementation to determine the effect on their rumen microbial ecology. Ad libitum intake of usnic acid averaged up to 278 mg/kg body mass. Population densities of rumen bacteria and methanogenic archaea determined by real-time PCR, ranged from 1.36 10(9) to 11.8 10(9) and 9.0 10(5) to 1.35 10(8) cells/g wet weight, respectively, and the two populations did not change significantly during usnic acid supplementation (repeated measures ANOVA) or vary significantly between the rumen liquid and particle fraction (paired t test). Rumen bacterial community structure determined by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis did not change in response to intake of usnic acid. Firmicutes (38.7 %) and Bacteriodetes (27.4 %) were prevalent among the 16S rRNA gene sequences (n = 62) from the DGGE gels, but representatives of the phyla Verrucomicrobia (14.5 %) and Proteobacteria (1.6 %) were also detected. Rapid detoxification of the usnic acid or resistance to usnic acid may explain why the diversity of the dominant bacterial populations and the bacterial density in the reindeer rumen does not change during usnic acid supplementation.