Sophie Watson
(Photo provided by Sophie Watson)

I am a PhD Researcher at Cardiff University in the UK, working closely with the Fondazione Edmund Mach, the USGS, McGill University and Université de Moncton. My project investigates how the gut microbiota diversity and composition of Arctic species such as polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and wolverines (Gulo gulo) are influenced by changing climatic and anthropogenic stressors. Changing climatic and anthropogenic stressors include changes in land use, diet, parasite profiles and contaminant accumulation. In doing so, I aim to understand how rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic are influencing the gastrointestinal health of flag ship Arctic species.

Before starting my PhD, I spent three years working on black bear (Ursus americanus) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) research projects in America and Canada, including the ‘USGS Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Research Project’ in Montana and various projects throughout Alaska. During my time on these projects, I became interested in the how anthropogenic and environmental pressures impact bacterial and parasitic communities within host species, and ultimately their health.

The Arctic is an ecosystem vulnerable to changing disease syndromes and the spill-over of emerging parasites due to climate-mediated changes in host behaviour and ranges, migratory patterns and invasion success of introduced species. In addition, a dramatic increase in mining and petroleum exploration and long range pollution within the Arctic poses a threat to the health and susceptibility of a range of resident species. Given the vulnerabilities of the Arctic, my research interests and skills are well-suited to the application of Arctic ecosystem research, which lead to the design of both my Masters of Research (MRes) and my current PhD project. My recent research, in conjunction with my research partners, shows that climate-mediated shifts in land use are linked to significant changes to the gut microbiota of polar bears belonging to the southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation – next, we’d like to understand which environmental exposures are driving these changes.

My research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

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Twitter: @watsonse1

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Watson, Sophie E., H.C. Hauffe, M.J. Bull, T.C. Atwood, M.A. McKinney, M. Pindo and S.E. Perkins. (2019). “Global change-driven use of onshore habitat impacts polar bear faecal microbiota.” The ISME Journal, pp.1-11.