Relationship Between the Gut Biome and Gastrointestinal Health in Captive Red Wolves

Captive management of wildlife species, including the red wolf (Canis rufus), comes with challenges. Sometimes captive individuals display health disorders that are not generally described in the wild population. Retrospective studies have identified gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, in particular, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as the second leading cause of captive adult red wolf mortality.

Is there a relationship between the gut biome and gastrointestinal health of captive red wolves?

On May 28, 2020, the Wolf Conservation Center hosted Morgan Bragg to learn how diet impacts the gut bacteria community in red wolves, and why it is important to keep the captive red wolf gut as “wild” as possible.

The gut is filled with millions of bacteria that are vital to maintaining healthy gut, immune, and metabolism functions. Several factors, like diet, can influence the type of bacteria present in the gut and their abundance. If there is a change in the indigenous gut bacteria present and/or their abundance, it can lead to a decrease in immune function, nutrient uptake and gastrointestinal health.


Morgan Bragg is a Ph.D. student working in collaboration with George Mason University and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Center for Conservation Genomics and Center for Species Survival. Bragg’s dissertation focuses on host-microbiome-environmental interactions and their influence on host gut health in captive red and maned wolves. She recently received her Master's in 2019 from George Mason University where she studied the relationship between gut bacteria, diet and gastrointestinal health in red wolves.