Host social structure and the clonal composition of bacterial populations

The transmission dynamics of most bacteria is poorly understood. This is even true of well-studied bacterial species such as Escherichia coli inhabiting humans. The Gidgee skink, Egernia stokesii, is a semi-arid species that inhabits rocky outcrops and lives in family groups. Family groups may consist of up to 16 individuals and multiple family groups can occupy the same rock outcrop. Family members defecate at a common location and these scat piles are thought to be used to mark territories.

The goal of this study is to determine if strains of bacteria are more likely to be shared among individuals belonging to the same family group as compared to individuals belonging to different family groups inhabiting the same outcrop or different outcrops.

The research will involve about four weeks of fieldwork in South Australia in September. The project will provide the student with experience in the capture and sampling of lizards. Experience with a variety of basic microbiological techniques and molecular techniques for the genetic fingerprinting of bacteria will also be gained. No previous experience with micro-organisms or lizards is required. This project is only suitable for a July start.