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Using Natural History Collections to Inform One Health Research

Speaker: Dr. Kelly Speer, University of Michigan

The value of natural history specimens is continually reaffirmed as we find additional, and previously unimaginable uses for these specimens. Most recently, natural history specimens are being reimagined as archives of microbial communities through time. These microorganisms are preserved in and on the bodies of their hosts and capture how host-parasite and host-pathogen interactions have changed through time.

Using bats and their associated parasites as a case study, Dr. Speer examines how environmental and host factors contribute to microbiome community composition and pathogen prevalence, and how natural history collections capture these interactions. In bats, the skin microbiome appears to vary with environment, while parasites tend to have highly species-specific microbiomes. However, to a lesser extent, habitat fragmentation, time, and geography contribute to variation in the microbiome of parasites.

Additionally, Dr. Speer explores how existing specimens in natural history collections may provide historical context for bat-pathogen and bat-parasite interactions. Studies of host-parasite-microbiome assemblages are necessary to advance our understanding of disease ecology and emergence in wildlife, especially given the wildlife origin of pathogens that impact human health and well-being. Natural history collections are uniquely suited to capture the complexities of wildlife interactions and, using new tools to detect microorganisms from these collections, can inform One Health research in the process.