The alpaca is a small South American camelid (SAC) that is an important production animal in Peru, especially among the highly impoverished communities of the high Andes, and raised for its fiber and meat. Alpacas are highly reliant on the microbes within their digestive tracts to digest the plant material they consume; volatile fatty acids (VFAs) are released as a byproduct of this microbial fermentation and used as a major source of energy by the alpaca. To explore optimal parameters for alpaca microbiome analysis, performed 16S rRNA gene surveys on alpaca C1 and fecal samples that had been extracted using one of three different DNA extraction methods (PowerFecal® DNA Isolation Kit (MO BIO); ZR Fecal DNA MiniPrep™ (Zymo); and a non-commercial extraction method called salting out) and amplified using one of two different polymerase enzyme mixes (AccuPrime™ Pfx SuperMix and 5 PRIME HotMasterMix). We found that choice of polymerase enzyme had a profound effect on the recovered microbiome, with the majority of 5 PRIME-amplified fecal samples failing to amplify. Extraction method had an effect on the recovered microbiome of fecal samples (but not C1 samples), with samples extracted using the MO BIO kit and the salting out method recovering different communities. The Zymo extraction kit returned microbial communities comparable to each of the other extraction methods. These results suggested that the AccuPrime enzyme and either the MO BIO or Zymo kits were optimal for alpaca gut microbiome analysis. We also performed two 16S rRNA gene surveys, the first from alpacas fed either a grass hay (GH) or alfalfa hay (AH) diet, and the second a C1 survey of alpacas fed two-week periods of mixed grass hay plus one of four supplements. We discovered body site and diet effects on the microbiota of alpacas fed either the GH or AH diet, with samples grouping by general body site (C1, small intestine, and distal intestine) and diet. However, we found no significant effect on the C1 microbiome of alpacas administered grain supplements. To study how energy extraction related to the microbiome, we correlated OTUs from GH/AH-fed alpaca with C1 VFA abundances. We discovered no significant correlations, and a 16S survey of low body condition (LBC) and good body condition (GBC) alpacas showed no difference in C1 microbial communities. We concluded that the microbiota of the alpaca digestive tract follow trends seen in microbiome studies of ruminants, but found no evidence of a relationship between body condition, energy extraction, and the C1 microbiome in alpacas.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





alpaca, gut microbiome, DNA extraction, DNA amplification, technical parameters, feces, C1, small intestine, large intestine, volatile fatty acids, body condition score