Abstracts (first author)
Microbiota of avian brood parasites shaped by foster parent species: a role in enhanced immunity of Cowbirds?
Avian brood parasites that exploit many species (extreme host-generalists) have more effective immune responses than related, non-parasitic species. This innovative trait, enhanced immunity, has supported invasion of new habitats and exploitation of new host species with the result that the North American brown-headed cowbird has accomplished a continental-scale range expansion well beyond its ancestral range in the central American prairies. Given the symbiotic role of the gut microbiome in vertebrate immunity, we used next generation sequencing to examine gut and cloacal microbe communities of the cowbird and assess whether microbial inoculations from foster parent species may contribute to greater diversity of cowbird microbiomes. We found that indeed cowbird cloacal beta diversity (among individuals) is higher than beta diversity of a closely-related, non-parasitic blackbird species and that the single most significant predictor of cloacal diversity is gut diversity of the same individual. Our results are consistent with the idea that biological interactions between cowbirds and their facultative parent species contributed to higher diversity in cowbird microbiota at the cowbird community level, and this in turn has contributed to the evolution of cowbirds’ more robust immunity