Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science




Biology (MS)

First Advisor/Chairperson

Diana Lafferty


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 has yet to be realized fully. Here, I use brown bears (Ursus arctos) as an ecological model to investigate (1) how both extrinsic and intrinsic factors influence GMB community membership and structure; and (2) the correlation between GMB membership and brown bear health metrics. To achieve these aims, I subsampled archived brown bear fecal samples collected during United States National Park Service research activities at three National Parks and Preserves and extracted microbial DNA for 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and microbial taxonomic classification. My results indicate that location and diet drive GMB variation and GMB composition reflects diverse foraging strategies while allowing brown bears to achieve similar body condition outcomes. Monitoring brown bear GMBs could enable managers to quickly detect and assess the impact of environmental perturbations on brown bear health.

Access Type

Open Access

Included in

Biology Commons