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Causes and Consequences of Gut Microbiome Variation in Wild Birds

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  • UserDr Gabrielle Davidson (Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge; Junior Research Fellow, Wolfson College)
  • ClockFriday 04 December 2020, 18:00-19:00
  • HouseOnline.

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Animals are hosts to trillions of microbes. The microbial community in the gut, often referred to as the ‘gut microbiome’ can be shaped by the environment and has an important role in regulating host health. Exciting new breakthroughs have identified a relationship between the gut microbiome and host cognition through the so-called microbiome-gut-brain axis. However, research thus far is narrowly limited to lab rodents and observational studies in humans, and therefore the generality of these findings across species remains unclear. Understanding what causes this variation in wild animals will provide novel insight into microbial-mediated ecological and evolutionary processes. For example, seasonality and individual differences in foraging will influence what animals eat, causing changes to gut microbiome, which in turn, can influence behaviour and cognition. Here I will describe how the local environment shapes individual variation in gut microbiota at difference life stages in a wild bird, the great tit (Parus major). I will also demonstrate how the microbiota can predict fitness and problem solving performance in this species. Synopsis: Gabrielle is a comparative psychologist and a behavioural ecologist with a keen interest in the development, function and evolution of cognition through the study of individual differences within species. Gabrielle is an Early Career Research Fellow funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Isaac Newton Trust studying the interplay between the gut microbiome, cognition and behaviour in wild birds using the long-term nestbox population in Madingley Woods. Gabrielle employs a mixture of field-based research using advanced automated data collection devices, cognitive assays in captivity and molecular techniques. This approach facilitates a comprehensive assessment of phenotypic traits in a natural habitat while also conducting manipulative studies under controlled settings. She completed her PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in 2014 where she studied behaviour in wild corvids (birds of the crow family). She then conducted a short post-doc studying the development of causal reasoning in juvenile Eurasian jays. At University College Cork, Ireland she was a Senior Post-Doctoral Researcher where she studied proximate mechanisms of individual variation in cognitive abilities in wild great tits.

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