Microbiomes, the microbial communities that live within animals, play an important role in affecting individual-level variation in health, behaviour and reproduction. Such wide-ranging effects have significant implications for animal movements, social interactions, diets and, crucially, animal-human interactions, with subsequent impacts on major societal issues including zoonotic disease transmission and economic damage. However, feedback loops between internal and external factors mean that the causes and consequences of microbiome variation are poorly known in many animals.
This project will explore interactions between individual behaviours and gut microbiome variation in laboratory populations of cockroaches across a range of dietary manipulations (high sugar, high fat etc.) and population densities. We anticipate that dietary changes will alter individual gut microbiomes, in turn altering feedback loops with behavioural responses (exploration levels, boldness etc.). Such effects have implications for zoonotic disease transmission, as cockroaches are important mechanical vectors of antibiotic resistant bacteria (e.g. Staphylococcus), viruses such as Hepatitis A and gastro-intestinal parasites (e.g. Ascaris roundworms). This project combines high-throughput DNA sequencing with animal personality tests to improve our understanding of the importance of diets in determining the function of the gut microbiome-brain-behaviour axis. This will enhance our ability to effectively manage such issues while providing a novel model system for examining the importance of behavioural traits in disease transmission.