College of Biological Sciences
The work in this lab that uses MSI resources most intensively is focused on understanding the causes and consequences of endosymbiont diversity, with a particular focus on the effects of global change. Human activities are amplifying rates of nutrient supply and species invasions and extinctions, affecting biological systems at scales ranging from individuals to continents. While current studies are clarifying effects of some of these drivers on the structure and functioning of ecosystems, we have virtually no knowledge of their effects on microbial communities within hosts. Yet, the fungal, bacterial, and viral microbial communities embedded as endosymbionts within all free-living organisms are extremely diverse and encode the vast majority of genes in the biosphere. Disease is the best studied host-microbe interaction, but endosymbiotic microbial populations and communities also are responsible for critical functions in their hosts including nutrient uptake (plants), reduction in inflammatory responses (animals), digestion (animals), anti-herbivore defenses (plants), and pathogen resistance. In spite of the tremendous diversity and functional importance of the microbial biome to free-living organisms, we have little predictive understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors controlling within-host microbial community composition or the spatial scales at which anthropogenic changes affect host and microbe community interactions and functions.
Research by this group was featured on the MSI website in March 2018: Nutrient Network Celebrates Ten Years of Collaborative Ecological Research.