RESEARCH

Community Structure and Function

The study of relationships between the structure and function of communities has a long history in ecology. My research seeks to understand this relationship in novel systems, namely amphibian and honey bee symbiotic microbial communities. In the amphibian system, I am particularly interested in the disease resistance function of skin symbionts, as amphibians are threatened with disease globally. Honey bees also harbor a diversity of microbial symbionts in their guts, which may serve disease resistance, nutrient acquisition, and detoxification functions. My approach to these research questions combines focused field surveys, experiments, culturing, molecular biology, and bioinformatics.

Biotic Responses to a Changing Environment

Many aspects of our world are changing, and even highly stable symbioses can be disrupted by environmental shifts. I currently have two main projects that are examining the effects of a changing environment on microbial community structure and function:

1) Evaluating the effects of temperature on the amphibian skin microbiome and its interaction with disease

2) Improving honey bee colony health: Assessing the role of honey bee gut microbiota in mediating pesticide effects

3) Interactions between honey bees, their gut microbiome, and disease (including Nosema)

Probiotics to Conserve Biodiversity

A goal that has motivated my research for over a decade is the pressing need to understand biodiversity loss and contribute to its conservation. I want to apply what we discover about the power of microbes to help develop probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, for the conservation of species. Probiotics are routinely used in humans and agriculture, and are underway for wildlife, including bats and amphibians. To this end, I have projects assessing:

 

1) Culturability and inhibitory capabilities of the amphibian skin microbiome

 

2) Identification of potential honey bee probiotic bacteria

© 2016 by Jeni Walke