This week we welcome our own Geraint Element.
Gut microbial ecology of a wild arctic salmonid
The advent of next generation sequencing of entire bacterial communities has allowed for a previously unavailable perspective on animal ecology, wherein we can now view changes in the host’s associated bacterial community as a stressor, or response to stress, that has its own dynamic ecology within that of the host. Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) is a traditionally important salmonid species in the Canadian Arctic, with a complex and variable life history strategy. As conditions in the Arctic change rapidly due to climate change, how S. alpinus and other salmonid populations will respond behaviorally and physiologically is of key interest from both a conservation and commercialization perspective, and attempts to understand the effects of environmental pressures on the species may need to include a model of their associated community of microflora, and how it interacts with its environment. My research uses 16S ribosomal RNA sequence data collected from gastro-intestinal tracts of individuals from populations in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut, to explore the microbial community structure and key bacterial species associated with the gut of S. alpinus, how the composition of this community changes during migration, and how its diversity may be related to various demographic factors. The trends identified provide evidence that the dependency of gut community on the host’s environment, a phenomenon previously observed in salmonids in aquaculture, is something that holds true for wild salmonids living in relatively pristine natural environments.