Dr Richard Davies, University of East Anglia, School of Biology
Dr Sarah Worsely, University of East Anglia, School of Biology
The vertebrate gut microbiome -a complex community of microbes- affects many aspects of host biology with considerable consequences for host health (including pathogen resistance) and survival. However, microbiomes differ substantially even among individuals in the same natural population. How ecological and anthropogenic factors shape this variation is not well understood, particularly at a fine spatial scale. Studying this is urgent given the increasing influence of climate change and human disturbance on wild habitats; both factors could impact host-microbe interactions and have important consequences for animals.
Berthelot’s pipit -a bird endemic to the macaronesian islands- provides an excellent system in which to assess the drivers of gut microbiome variation at fine spatial scales. On Tenerife pipits occupy a variety of habitats that span rural-urban and ecological gradients. Individuals have been shown to vary in their exposure to pathogens and exist at different population densities (all predicted to impact the microbiome). Building on previous work on this system you will undertake fieldwork to develop a dataset of host faecal samples and related environmental variables. You will then screen samples using resequencing of a bacteria barcoding gene and resolve microbiome variation using bioinformatic tools.
After characterising the basic pipit bacterial gut microbiome, the following novel objectives can be developed and prioritised according to your interests:
1) Investigate how anthropogenic disturbance, including urban-rural gradients and livestock, affect this microbiome.
2) Determine how the microbiome varies in relation to other key environmental variables, e.g. altitude, aridity.
3) Investigate whether pathogenic infection and gut microbiome differences covary across the landscape (avian malaria and pox are common in the pipit).
At UEA you will join a thriving, friendly, research group, supported by a vibrant ARIES cohort, work with international collaborators in Tenerife, and within a strong evolution, ecology and microbiology research community. We will help you gain diverse research skills in fieldwork, sequencing, bioinformatics, data analysis, geographic information systems, conceptual understanding, scientific writing and public communication. Training to increase transferable skills and enhance employability will also be provided.
Degree in biology/zoology/ecology related subject
Field and/or analytical skills preferred
Contact David.email@example.com for further details