Do you know that from just a single drop of your faeces, I would be able to tell what you had for dinner last night? For my study, I will be using molecular faecal analysis to study the diet of the western capercaillie. Capercaillies are a type of herbivorous birds that can be found across most of Eurasia. Their fascinating courtship display has captivated the hearts of both the young and the old alike. Sadly, they are threatened by many factors such as habitat destruction. By studying their diet, information about their resource use and habitat requirements can be used to better conserve these magnificent creatures.
Diet analysis is a prerequisite to fully understand the biology of a species and the functioning of ecosystems. For animals, traditional diet analyses rely mostly on morphological identification of undigested remains in the faeces, but recent advances in metabarcoding have enabled using DNA of ingested foods to reconstruct diets. However, amplicon metabarcoding markers have limited resolution in species identification and the absence of complete sequence reference databases further limit accurate species identification. Recently, national DNA reference database projects have emerged, which create organelle genome reference data for each species: in the Alps (PhyloAlps), Norway (NorBOL) and Denmark (DNAmark). This PhD project will explore the optimal use of these novel and comprehensive reference databases for accurate species-level identification of plants in animal diets through a comparative shotgun sequencing diet study on capercailles (wood grouse) in the Alps and Norway. The project will involve fieldwork, laboratory preparation of collected faecal samples for shotgun sequencing and exploration/development of laboratory and bioinformatics protocols and workflows.
Chua P, Boessenkool S, Alsos IG, Ekrem T, Crampton-Platt A, Bohmann K, 2019. Use of emerging complete organelle DNA reference database in the diet analysis of the herbivorous wood grouse, western capercaillies. At: 8th International Barcode of Life Conference. Trondheim, Norway. 17-20 June 2019.