Alumna Alicia Bird’s M.S. thesis was recently published as a paper in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. Bird and her coauthors used DNA sequencing to examine bacteria living on the skin of Ensatina and Batrachoseps salamanders across California. Surprisingly, they found only a weak relationship host groups and their microbiome: Closely related species weren’t more likely to share the same groups of skin bacteria than distantly related species. The team also found that the bacteria harbored by salamanders were distinct from those found in the surrounding soil, and differed depending on the habitats in which the salamanders lived.
These groups of salamanders are vulnerable to the devastating Bd fungus, and many bacteria found on salamander skin have antifungal properties – so Bird’s work could help inform scientists’ efforts to protect the amphibians.
Other authors on the study include alumna Sofia Prado-Irwin, now a PhD student at Harvard University, Associate Professor of Biology Andrew Zink and Professor of Biology Vance Vredenburg. Bird and Prado-Irwin were both funded in part by NIH-RISE fellowships. Bird is now a PhD Student at UC Davis, where she studies the effects of human-produced noise on tree swallows.