Project title: Understanding the role of gut microbes in the adaptive radiation of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)
Summary: Microbes are ubiquitous and in many cases have co-evolved with their host organisms. The structure and function of a host’s microbiome assists in detoxification, pathogen resistance, immune system development, digestion and can alter the behaviour of hosts. Microbes are thought to be key to contributing to the success of their host when colonizing new environments. Fish are exposed to a wide variety of environmental bacteria, but those located in the intestine represent resident colonies. These are beneficial to the host as long as physiology remains at homeostasis. This can be altered along environmental changes but also colonization or speciation processes.
This project consists of laboratory and field studies using three-spined sticklebacks as a model organism Sticklebacks have colonized many different environments making it a prime model for adaptive speciation. Firstly, we will screen for bacteria diversity across environmental gradients, then manipulate environment and microbe exposure to evaluate the role of gut microbiota on individual fitness and more broadly in speciation processes. We will use high throughput sequencing to characterize bacteria fauna. The overarching goal will be to determine how stickleback have co-evolved with their gut microbiota and determine the role of the microbiota in stickleback adaptation to new ecological niches.