Grain and artificial stimulation of the rumen change the abundance and diversity of methanogens and their association with ciliates

Claus Christophersen

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated abstract] In Australia, there is pressure to reduce the amount of methane produced by ruminant livestock because they are the single largest source of methane emitted from anthropogenic sources, accounting for 70.7% of agricultural methane emissions. In addition, methane production represents a loss of gross energy intake to the animal. The organisms that are responsible for methane production in the animal gut are a distinct group of Archaea called methanogens. Methanogens occupy three different niches within the rumen. Some live freely in the rumen digesta (planktonic), others are attached to the outer surface of the rumen ciliates (ectosymbiotic), and some reside within the ciliates (endosymbiotic). The types and number of methanogens, as well as rumen ciliates and their symbiotic interactions, influence the amount of methane produced from the rumen. These factors in turn are affected by many factors, including diet and ruminal retention time. In this thesis, I tested the general hypothesis that increasing the amount of grain in the diet and reducing the retention time would affect the abundance and diversity of methanogens in their different niches, including their association with ruminal ciliates. Twenty-four fistulated sheep were used in a complete factorial design with the sheep randomly divided into four groups. ... The change in DGGE banding patterns and Shannon indices when sheep were fed grain indicated that the types of methanogens changed when sheep were fed low and high grain diets, but their diversity did not. In contrast, the diversity of rumen ciliates decreased when sheep were fed a high grain diet. A total of 18 bands from the DGGE analysis of the ciliates were sequenced. All except one, which was 98% similar to Cycloposthium sp. not found previously in the rumen, matched the sequences for previously identified rumen ciliates. Some of the rumen ciliates identified were not present in sheep fed the high grain diet. On a high grain diet, methanogens associate endosymbiotically with rumen ciliates to get better access to hydrogen. It appears that the association between methanogens and rumen ciliates is dictated by the availability of hydrogen in the rumen and not the generic composition of the ciliate population. Furthermore, endosymbiotic methanogens appear to produce less methane than methanogens in other niches. The pot scrubbers did not change ruminal retention time but they did reduce the acetate/propionate measurements observed in sheep on the high grain treatment. The reason why pot scrubbers had this effect remains unknown, but it is interesting to consider that some physical interaction has occurred between the pot scrubbers, the grain and the sheep that has improved the fermentation parameters in sheep fed a high grain diet. The results from this study have advanced our understanding of the interaction between methanogens and ruminal ciliates, and methanogenesis in the rumen in response to dietary changes and mechanical challenges. Extending this work to look more specifically at the species of methanogens that are most closely linked to high methane production and how they interact with the ruminal ciliates will be critical for manipulating enteric greenhouse gas emissions.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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