IMPORTANCE The giant panda, an endangered mammalian species endemic to western China, is well known for its unique bamboo diet. Unlike other herbivores that have successfully evolved anatomically specialized digestive systems to efficiently deconstruct fibrous plant matter, the giant panda still retains a gastrointestinal tract typical of carnivores. We characterized the fecal bacterial communities from a giant panda population to determine whether this animal relies on its symbiotic gut microbiota to cope with the complex carbohydrates that dominate its diet, as is common in other herbivores. We found that the giant panda gut microbiota is low in diversity and highly variable across seasons. It also shows an overall composition typical of bears and entirely differentiated from other herbivores, with low levels of putative cellulose-digesting bacteria. The gut microbiota of this herbivore, therefore, may not have well adapted to its highly fibrous diet, suggesting a potential link with its poor digestive efficiency.
The Bamboo-Eating Giant Panda Harbors a Carnivore-Like Gut Microbiota