The phenomenon of evolutionary convergence, where organisms independently evolve similar adaptations to similar environments and selective pressures (flight, for example), is widespread across the tree of life. Although multiple mechanisms can lead to the evolution of convergent traits, one mechanism that has not yet been adequately explored is the potential role of the microbiome (the collection of microbial cells and their genomes). The overarching goal of this project is to investigate the potential role of the animal-associated microbiome in shaping the evolution of certain convergent traits such as flight and diet specialization in vertebrate animals. Through collaborations with zoos and aquariums around the world, we will be able to use key vertebrate species to look for evidence of associations between convergent traits and microbiomes. Direct results of this project will include an increased scientific and public understanding and appreciation of our close and evolutionary ties to the microbial world that lives in, on, and around us. We hope to also uncover new associations between animal lineages and their microbes as well as discover new directions for the development of applied tools for improving animal health.
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