Dysbiosis, immunomodulation, and health effects of agricultural pesticides in wild prairie grouse

Science Center Objects

Agrochemical pollution poses a severe threat to biodiversity.  Agrochemicals can detrimentally affect wildlife growth, development, survival, reproduction, and immune responses, which facilitates emergence and spread of infectious diseases that may cause unusually high mortality.  Animal microbiota plays a fundamental role in host’s food detoxification and defense against pathogens, regulates numerous aspects of host’s physiology related to nutrition, health, survival, and reproduction.  Environmental pollution changes microbiota composition and reduces its richness causing dysbiosis that have been linked to a wide range of detrimental health effects and reduced host fitness. 

The Challenge: The effect of agrochemicals on wildlife microbiota and its function remains unexplored.  The overall objective for this study is to assess whether birds exposed to crop production and associated agrochemicals suffer from dysbiosis and are more susceptible to disease compared to those residing in habitats not affected by crop production.

The Science: We will use multi “omics” approach to compare microbiota richness, composition, function, virulome, and resistome among Nebraska populations of the greater-prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) and sharp-tailed grouse (T. phasianellus) extensively using croplands, to those without access to croplands.  These differences will be analyzed in relation to concentrations of agrochemicals in grouse tissues and indicators of the state of their immune system, physiological condition, and health: immune cell biomarkers, hormones, oxidative stress, histology of the liver and spleen

The Future: Understanding whether birds exposed to crop production are more susceptible to disease compared to unexposed birds is important for understanding potential relationships between modern agrochemicals and widely reported population decreases in farmland wildlife and identification of potential mechanisms involved in these relationships.