Microbiome metagenomics, senescence and mortality in an island population of birds


This novel and exciting project will use metagenomics to investigate compositional and functional changes in individual gut microbiome (GM) linked to health, senescence and mortality in the Seychelles warbler.

Studies on humans and domestic/captive animals have shown that the vertebrate GM – a complex microbial community comprising thousands of species – plays a role in fundamental processes within the host and suggests that differences in the GM can have considerable impacts on health and ageing. However, captivity (and medical/health interventions) can radically affect the GM and confound such studies. Detailed studies that measure how the GM changes within individuals over time in wild-living vertebrate populations are needed to fully understand the role of the GM.

Our long-term monitoring of an island population of Seychelles warblers, where individuals are measured and sampled throughout their lives, provides a unique opportunity to undertake a study on the GM without the confounding issues of unnatural conditions or medical interventions. We already have samples and accurate health and survival data on 100’s of individuals and previous work confirms that considerable variation in senescence, survival and GM composition occurs. This population therefore provides the samples, data and resolution for an excellent, ground-breaking study.

This PhD offers an exceptional training opportunity, working on cutting-edge conceptual questions within a world-class research environment. You will gain a wide range of research skills including sequencing, metagenomics, bioinformatics, database use, and statistical modelling. There will also be a fieldwork component. You will also receive excellent general training from the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership based at UEA, supervised by Prof David S Richardson (UEA) and Dr Falk Hildebrand (Quadram/Earlham Institute), with support from Prof. Matt Hutchings (JIC) and Dr Hannah Dugdale (Groningen).

In collaboration with overall Seychelles Warbler Research Project.


Hammers, M, Kingma, S, Spurgin, L, Bebbington, K, Dugdale, H, Burke, T, Komdeur, J & Richardson, DS (2019). Breeders that receive help age more slowly in a cooperatively breeding bird. Nature Communications. 10, (1) 130140.

Hammers M, Kingma SA, Bebbington K, van de Crommenacker J, Spurgin LG, Richardson DS, Burke T, Dugdale HL, Komdeur J (2015) Senescence in the wild: Insights from a long-term study on Seychelles warblers. Experimental gerontology. 71:69-79.

Gilroy, R. et al. A Genomic Blueprint of the Chicken Gut Microbiome. (2020) doi:10.21203/rs.3.rs-56027/v1.