Gut microbiomes (GMBs), complex communities of microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tracts of their hosts, perform countless micro-ecosystem services such as facilitating energy uptake and modulating immune responses. While scientists increasingly recognize the role GMBs play in host health, the role of GMBs in wildlife ecology and conservation have yet to be realized fully. Using brown bears (Ursus arctos) as an ecological model, we aim to a) assess variation in brown bear GMBs across three protected areas in Alaska and b) evaluate the role that extrinsic factors (e.g., location, diet, and season) play in brown bear GMBs. To achieve these aims, we subsampled brown bear fecal samples collected during previous United States Geological Survey and National Park Service research activities at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Katmai National Park and Preserve. From these fecal samples, we extracted microbial DNA for 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and conducted bioinformatic analysis to identify factors driving variation in brown bear GMBs. Our preliminary results indicate that location drives GMB variation across the study area. However, alpha diversity indices, Faith’s Phylogenetic and Shannon, are not significantly different between parks. By integrating macro and micro-ecological perspectives, we hope to identify characteristics of brown bear-associated GMBs that can serve as biomarkers for population-level health, thus informing local and landscape-level management decisions to promote long-term conservation and management.

Class Standing

Graduate Student



Faculty Advisor

Dr. Diana Lafferty

Faculty Advisor Email