"There have been around 15 prior studies pursuing this line of research," Theis said. "But they typically relied on culture-based methods, an approach in which many of the similarities and differences in bacterial communities can be lost. If we used those traditional methods, many of the key findings that are driving our research wouldn't be detected at all."
For the current paper, Theis' team was the first to combine microbial surveys and complementary odor data from wild animals. The studies' findings leave Theis anxious to return to the field.
"Now I just need to get back into the field to test new predictions generated by this study," Theis said. "The next phase of this research will be to manipulate the bacterial communities in hyenas' scent glands to test if their odors change in predictable ways."
Theis is now also conducting similar research in birds, in collaboration with MSU researcher Danielle Whittaker. Being able to cast a wide research net and connect quickly with collaborators are some of the benefits of working for MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Theis added.
|Contact: Layne Cameron|
Michigan State University