Herptile Microbiomes

Wildlife, herptile, and microbiome diversity continue to captivate me

This summer I was fortunate enough to be asked to spend two weeks in Tennessee collecting samples to understand bacterial-fungal interactions in the gut of reptiles and amphibians. This was the most fun that I’ve ever had on a field trip! I learned how to successfully collect and sample a variety of reptiles and amphibians. The senior team members also explained how to identify snakes, salamanders and frogs in the Eastern TN region. I learned how to identify good amphibian habitat and properly use the “cup and scoop” technique when catching elusive stream salamanders. I was incorporated into a pipeline of processing animals for microbiome sampling. I also learned how to safely look for snakes and how to properly return all animals to their original collection location after sampling.

Upon returning home, I felt as if I had gained a life’s worth of experience in just two weeks. I was also able to bond with my lab group during this unique adventure through the Great Smoky Mountains. On our “off-day”, we went go-karting, ate sushi and celebrated our first week of accomplishments. Making deeper connections both with my peers and the group of mycologists from OSU and UC Riverside was truly a highlight. I was exposed to, and learned more in two weeks about fungi, than I had in my entire life.

Spending two weeks in the field allowed me to connect the field to wet lab activities and inspired a personal connection with my research. It helped me to develop an appreciation for the incredible diversity of wildlife in the Southeastern US and risks to these species due to wildlife disease. For example, I observed snakes with snake fungal disease lesions and this changed my entire perspective on the importance of our work. I realized the impact our research is making to protect reptiles and amphibians in the Southeastern US and establish fundamental knowledge about bacterial-fungal interactions in these wildlife species.

This was the experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait for field work next year!

Clay Stalzer

Freshman Biology Major at Middle Tennessee State University