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High-starch diets alter equine faecal microbiota and increase behavioural reactivity.

Bulmer, Louise S.; Murray, Jo-Anne; Burns, Neil M.; Garber, Anna; Wemelsfelder, Francoise; McEwan, Neil R.; Hastie, Peter M.


Louise S. Bulmer

Jo-Anne Murray

Neil M. Burns

Anna Garber

Francoise Wemelsfelder

Neil R. McEwan

Peter M. Hastie


Gut microbiota have been associated with health, disease and behaviour in several species and are an important link in gut-brain axis communication. Diet plays a key role in affecting the composition of gut microbiota. In horses, high-starch diets alter the hindgut microbiota. High-starch diets are also associated with increased behavioural reactivity in horses. These changes in microbiota and behaviour may be associated. This study compares the faecal microbiota and behaviour of 10 naïve ponies. A cross-over design was used with experimental groups fed high-starch (HS) or high-fibre (HF) diets. Results showed that ponies were more reactive and less settled when being fed the HS diet compared to the HF diet. Irrespective of diet, the bacterial profile was dominated by two main phyla, Firmicutes, closely followed by Bacteroidetes. However, at lower taxonomic levels multivariate analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequencing data showed diet affected faecal microbial community structure. The abundance of 85 OTUs differed significantly related to diet. Correlative relationships exist between dietary induced alterations to faecal microbiota and behaviour. Results demonstrate a clear link between diet, faecal microbial community composition and behaviour. Dietary induced alterations to gut microbiota play a role in affecting the behaviour of the host.


BULMER, L.S., MURRAY, J.-A., BURNS, N.M., GARBER, A., WEMELSFELDER, F., MCEWAN, N.R. and HASTIE, P.M. 2019. High-starch diets alter equine faecal microbiota and increase behavioural reactivity. Scientific reports [online], 9, article number 18621. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 23, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 9, 2019
Publication Date Dec 31, 2019
Deposit Date Dec 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Dec 18, 2019
Journal Scientific reports
Electronic ISSN 2045-2322
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Article Number 18621
Keywords Gut microbiota; Diet; Horses; Ponies; High-starch diet; High-fibre diet
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