Current Research

Linking bacterial taxonomic shifts with function in hibernating squirrels

The complex symbiosis between gut microorganisms and their host is vital for increasing metabolic efficiency and optimizing energy usage for the survival of both partners; however, specific functional contributions of the microbial community are not fully understood. To address this problem, I will use hibernation in 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) as a system with natural dramatic dietary shifts. The circannual hibernation cycles involves periods of summer feasting, when the squirrel stores fat and its BC has access to dietary substrates for energy, and periods of winter fasting, when the squirrel hibernates and uses fast storages for energy while the BC relies solely on host-derived substrates. To explore the BC’s contribution to host survival during hibernation, I will identify and link seasonal taxonomic and functional changes associated with dietary substrate degradation using in vivo stable isotope assisted labeling and next-generation sequencing. I hypothesize that the hibernation BC has a decreased capacity to degrade dietary substrates while the opposite is true for summer and spring BCs.