Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kathryn M. Docherty

Second Advisor

Dr. Sharon A. Gill

Third Advisor

Dr. Steven L. Kohler


Microbiome, petrel, seabird, sequencing, UniFrac

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


The microbiome provides multiple benefits to animal hosts that can profoundly impact health and behavior. Microbiomes are well-characterized in humans and animals in controlled settings, yet assessments of wild bird microbial communities remain vastly understudied. This study examines the multiple factors that affect the microbiome of a burrow-nesting Procellariiform bird species, Leach’s storm-petrel. 16S rRNA-based Illumina Mi-Seq analyses are used to assess the composition and structure of bird and burrow-associated bacterial communities. Results indicate that sex and skin site contribute to bird-associated bacterial community variation, and MHC heterozygosity impacts these bacterial assemblages in a sex and site-specific manner, potentially having implications on odor-mediated mate selection. Environmental and social factors only minimally influence bird-associated bacterial assemblages, although environmental impact is sex and site-specific. While other studies have examined factors that impact the avian microbiome, most focus on microbial assemblages in terrestrial bird species, which differ substantially from seabirds in their life histories. Here, individual physiological and genetic influences outweigh environmental and social factors on microbiome composition, suggesting a dependence on individual genetics in mate selection potentially through microbiome-mediated odor cues for this species. This is the first study to examine multiple factors that affect the surface microbiome of a seabird.