Human activity is a major driver of environmental change and can act as a significant evolutionary force in wild populations. Evaluating and predicting the impact of anthropogenic activities on nature requires a better understanding of the mechanisms that fuel adaptation. Recent studies in a range of animal taxa have shown that gut-associated micro-organisms (i.e. the microbiome) can influence a variety of traits in their hosts, including physiology, development, behaviour, and immunity. By facilitating adaptive trait change, the microbiome has the potential to help populations cope with environmental challenges. However, as of yet, little is known about how microbes affect host function and evolution. Here, we test the intriguing hypothesis that the gut-microbiome may mediate adaptation to stressful environmental conditions.
This project uses Asellus aquaticus, a detritivorous isopod that is a keystone species in freshwater ecosystems, as a model to study the role of the microbiome in responses to human-induced stress, such as chemical pollution and temperature. A. aquaticus shows broad environmental tolerance, as well as high bacterial diversity in its digestive system, suggesting potential for microbiome-mediated adaptation. This project combines evolutionary ecological, microbiological and ecotoxicological approaches to i) investigate whether differences in the microbiome may affect persistence in face of environmental change and ii) establish A. aquaticus as a versatile model system for environmental and evolutionary questions. Key methods: standardized laboratory experiments, field surveys, amplicon sequencing.