Collaborative Proposal: RoL: The Scale of Resistance: Landscape to Microbiome-level Processes Regulating Acquired Disease Resistance

Project: Research project

Project Details


Understanding how species cope with disease in an era of global change is of fundamental importance to the field of ecology and to the stability of wildlife populations. Anthropogenic deforestation is frequently associated with increases in wildlife disease. These patterns are expected to stem from both landscape-scale processes, such as changes in animal movement and disease transmission, and fine-scale processes, such as changes in the community of microbes that inhabit animal tissues (collectively termed the microbiome), but the interplay between these multi-scale processes is unresolved. This project investigates the relationship between deforestation and the microbiome to explain patterns of disease emergence across a range of disturbed environments, using amphibians of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest as a model system. Work here stands apart from previous studies by integrating landscape-scale and microbe-scale processes into a unified framework that will advance microbial, disease, and global change ecology. This project implements a diversity recruitment program for graduate students with support from the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program at the University of Alabama and other funding sources at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. In partnership with the Alabama Museum of Natural History, portable mini exhibits and school activities w will be manufactured and implemented to narrow the K-12 science education gap in one of the most underserved areas in the nation. It is predicted that these exhibits will reach 66,000 students annually in five county school districts in Alabama.The diverse assemblages of microbes that inhabit vertebrate hosts, collectively termed the microbiome, are vital to animal health. However, links between the host microbiome and emerging wildlife diseases are rarely considered within a landscape ecology framework. Repeated exposure to pathogens may alter community dynamics within the host microbiome and can promote competitive microbial interactions and host responses that may enrich the microbiome with anti-pathogen members. This form of acquired pathogen resistance, termed microbiome memory, may facilitate host recovery and prime the host after subsequent pathogen exposures. Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation notoriously restricts host movement at the landscape scale, which may alter rates of pathogen exposure that are critical for establishing microbiome memory prior to seasonal increases in pathogen pressure. This project will investigate interactive effects of anthropogenic habitat disturbance and host microbiome dynamics as a mechanism to explain observed increases in disease risk in fragmented landscapes, using amphibians of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest as a model system. The selection acting on amphibian skin microbiomes in a survey of three amphibian species with seasonal pathogen dynamics across a gradient of landscape fragmentation will be examined. Also, field experiments will be conducted using microbiome manipulation, host translocation, and radio telemetry to test for mechanisms linking habitat fragmentation, disease, and the host microbiome independently from other components of host immunity. This work will generate a robust dataset integrating landscape ecology with a metacommunity theory of adaptive microbiomes, with novel implications for host resistance to disease and the maintenance and stability of biological diversity.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date10/1/226/30/24


  • National Science Foundation: $621,963.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.