It seems like each day scientists report more dire consequences of climate change on animals and plants worldwide. Birds that are migrating later in the year can’t find enough food. Plants are flowering before their insect pollinators hatch. Prey species have less stamina to escape predators. In short, climatic shifts that affect one organism are likely to trigger ripple effects that can disturb the structure and functioning of entire ecosystems.
One component of animal health that largely reflects the surrounding environment is the microbiome, the consortium of microbes now known to aid in food digestion, regulating the immune system and protecting against pathogens. The species of bacteria that make up the microbiome are primarily recruited from the environment. Thus, food webs and other animal interactions that influence environmental bacteria have the potential to shape animals’ microbiomes.
But what happens when climate change disturbs the environment, causing shifts in animals’ microbiomes