Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Integrative Life Sciences

First Advisor

Maria Rivera


Recent advances in sequencing technologies have provided an unprecedented window in the unseen biological world. Accompanying this revolution is a growing appreciation for the ubiquity and diversity of beneficial interactions between animals and the microbes they carry. Given the symbiotic roles of microbes in host nutrition, immunity, behavior, development, and nearly every other facet of host biology, it is becoming increasingly clear that any understanding of hosts and their evolution would be incomplete without also considering the microbial dimension. Yet despite the growing body of evidence that many of these partnerships are rooted deep in evolutionary time, the majority of studies have tended to focus on how the composition of the present-day microbiome is shaped by present-day factors. In order to place the microbiome in the larger context of host biology, a more complete understanding of the evolutionary interplay between hosts and their microbial associates is needed. Here, I use Odontotaenius disjunctus, a large xylophagous beetle found throughout eastern North America, to explore how its present-day gut microbiome has both shaped and been shaped by evolutionary processes that have acted on the host. First, I show that recent evolution in O. disjunctus reflects the influence of Pleistocene glaciation on the host’s demographic history. Next, I show that the present-day gut microbiome of O. disjunctus reflects both the influence of this recent host evolution and the more ancient influence of natural selection that has acted on the host to maintain these beneficial partnerships over a much longer timescale. Finally, I show that the persistence of certain members of the gut microbiome over evolutionary time may be explained by their role in host lignocellulose digestion. My findings demonstrate that, much like host genomes, the microbiome has been, is being, and will continue to be shaped simultaneously by forces of selection and neutrality along the arc of evolutionary history shared by these intimate partners.


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