Vertically transmitted microbiome protects eggs from fungal infection and egg failure

M. E. Bunker, G. Elliott, H. Heyer-Gray, M. O. Martin, A. E. Arnold, S. L. Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Beneficial microbes can be vertically transmitted from mother to offspring in many organisms. In oviparous animals, bacterial transfer to eggs may improve egg success by inhibiting fungal attachment and infection from pathogenic microbes in the nest environment. Vertical transfer of these egg-protective bacteria may be facilitated through behavioral mechanisms such as egg-tending, but many species do not provide parental care. Thus, an important mechanism of vertical transfer may be the passage of the egg through the maternal cloaca during oviposition itself. In this study, we examined how oviposition affects eggshell microbial communities, fungal attachment, hatch success, and offspring phenotype in the striped plateau lizard, Sceloporus virgatus, a species with no post-oviposition parental care. Results: Relative to dissected eggs that did not pass through the cloaca, oviposited eggs had more bacteria and fewer fungal hyphae when examined with a scanning electron microscope. Using high throughput Illumina sequencing, we also found a difference in the bacterial communities of eggshells that did and did not pass through the cloaca, and the diversity of eggshell communities tended to correlate with maternal cloacal diversity only for oviposited eggs, and not for dissected eggs, indicating that vertical transmission of microbes is occurring. Further, we found that oviposited eggs had greater hatch success and led to larger offspring than those that were dissected. Conclusions: Overall, our results indicate that female S. virgatus lizards transfer beneficial microbes from their cloaca onto their eggs during oviposition, and that these microbes reduce fungal colonization and infection of eggs during incubation and increase female fitness. Cloacal transfer of egg-protective bacteria may be common among oviparous species, and may be especially advantageous to species that lack parental care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number43
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Antifungal bacteria
  • Cloaca
  • Eggshell
  • Fitness
  • Illumina
  • Lizard
  • Microbiome
  • Scanning electron microscopy
  • Sceloporus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary (miscalleneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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