Carla Wagener

Background

I completed my BSc (Hons) in Botany & Zoology at Stellenbosch University in 2018. The focus of my honours research project was to determine whether offspring of Xenopus laevis adults from different altitudinal regions, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (¬ 5 m above sea level) and Royal Natal National Park (¬ 2000 m above sea level) display different levels of thermal adaptation in physiological performance and critical thermal limits due to different thermal conditions experienced in parental environments. Now I am currently working towards completing my MSc in Zoology.

Current research

My current research focus is on the role of the intestinal microbial communities (collectively known as the gut microbiome) on the invasion ecology of Sclerophrys gutturalis (Guttural toad).

Microorganisms essentially cover all habitats on earth, but the highest microbial densities reside in our guts. All higher animals are associated with diverse microbial communities composed (aw) of bacteria, archaea, fungi and protozoa. With recent advances in molecular biology, the field of microbiome research has expanded to describe both the intestinal microbiota of individuals and their wide-ranging impacts on host health, physiology and fitness. Given the major influence of the gut microbiome on host health and physiology, it is surprising that invasive species gut microbiomes and their influence on invasion success remains a relatively unexplored subject. Only a few studies have examined the composition of invasive populations’ gut microbiomes’, with results ranging from complete similarity to divergent gut microbiome conditions between native and introduced populations. So far, no studies have determined the composition of gut microbial communities in invasive amphibian populations, nor their importance regarding invasion success. Invasive amphibians can potentially introduce microorganisms with new strains and/or microbes that can affect not only the health of native species, but the functionality of ecosystems. Single strains of microbes, their interactions and the entire gut microbiome might also play a major role in the invasion success of a species, by affecting host physiology and health. Research on invasive amphibian gut microbiomes can, therefore, have significant implications for our understanding of how gut microbial composition and diversity might affect invasive success in native ecosystems. I want to address these gaps in our knowledge of invasive amphibian gut microbiomes in my MSc. My main aims are to (1) determine whether guttural toads’ gut microbiomes differ between populations, native (urban and natural) and invasive (core and periphery) and (2) examine the responses of invasive and native toads’ gut microbiomes to novel lab diets.