Global changes in climate, habitat structure and land-use patterns all have major consequences on biodiversity and the integrity of natural ecosystems. How organisms respond and adapt to changing environmental conditions is therefore a key question in biological research. Despite a rich history of scientific literature detailing both case studies and basic science of how climate and habitat degradation affects populations, an area completely understudied in the context of changing environment conditions is the role of the bacterial microbiome. It is becoming increasingly apparent that an organism does not function alone. Individuals are actually ‘superorganisms’ both in terms of function and genomic content. Bacteria are now known to influence many aspect's of host biology including reproduction, nutrition and health. Recent human-centric research has evidenced this view but insect models can also offer important advantages and insights. Butterfly models are especially appropriate because of extensive ecological and population data and roles as agricultural pests and indicators of climate change. In this proposed research I will combine traditional ecology physiology and population studies with state of the art sequencing technologies. I will first map the geographical pattern of microbiome diversity in the butterfly Colias eurytheme and examine environmental correlates. As ectotherms butterflies are particularly thermally sensitive and so I will then assess the role of bacteria in host thermal tolerance and adaptation. Lastly I propose to investigate determinants of microbiome composition. This work will produce the first full characterisation of a butterfly microbiome, provide insights into thermal adaptation and identify candidate host genes associated with microbiome diversity. This knowledge will form the backbone of further research into the role of the microbiome in the host response to changing environmental conditions.
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