Behaviour 2019
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Get off my lawn! Manipulating songbird microbiomes through social stress
Morgan C. Slevin1, Jennifer L. Houtz2, Maren N. Vitousek2, Rindy C. Anderson1. 1Florida Atlantic University, Davie, FL, United States; 2Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States

All animals host a gut microbiome, the natural bacterial community in the gastrointestinal tract. Emerging research in mammals shows the gut microbiome is related to host health in general, as well as important facets of health such as cognitive function, behavior, and the stress response, collectively known as the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Despite a wealth of research detailing these relationships in rodents and humans, relatively very little is known about this system in birds and other taxa. Here I summarize my study design and current progress in studying how the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis mediates communication within the microbiota-gut-brain axis of wild Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). I am experimentally provoking a chronic stress response in territorial males to test for effects of challenges on the gut microbiome, body condition, and beak coloration. Better understanding a wild bird’s gut microbiome, and how it relates to stress, health, and behavior, is a first step to using microbiomes as a tool to index wild animal population health, and to ameliorate stress and improve the health of animals in captive breeding and rehabilitation programs.