What are these? Look closely. These are swabs from island fox ears and backsides being processed in the lab at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C.
This is island fox science in progress! FIF 2020 Research Grant recipient Dr. Allie DeCandia updated us on her work investigating the microbiome of island foxes.
"Between July and December 2020, collaborators across all six Channel Islands collected ear canal swabs, anal swabs, and blood samples from 50–60 foxes per subspecies. After collection in the field, these samples were shipped to Princeton University for temporary storage until all samples arrived on the east coast." In March, DeCandia moved the samples to her lab at the Smithsonian. She spent April and May inventorying samples.
"My collaborators did a fantastic job sampling foxes!" DeCandia says. "In total, I inventoried 851 swabs over the course of 23 hyper-focused laboratory hours (which were thankfully not consecutive)."
Processing the samples must be meticulous because she is investigating DNA.
"I sterilized scissors (bleach dunk / water dunk / superheat in a Bacinerator), snipped off the swab tip, placed the swab tip in a sterile microcentrifuge tube, recorded metadata written on the original swab container, and repeated the process for each swab collected."
The coordinating 300+ blood samples are now being inventoried and the individual island fox DNA extracted. DeCandia will spend the summer extracting microbial DNA from the swabs and preparing samples for "microbiome sequencing." Over the fall/winter, she'll be deep in analyzing the data.
"I am ecstatic to be working with so many amazing researchers in the field and in the lab," DeCandia says, "and can't wait to analyze this impressive dataset in the months ahead!"
FIF grant funds are processing the DNA extraction.
Your donations support this cutting edge research.
If an island fox is an environment for microbes, what was lost when island fox populations declined to just a few individuals? How is an entire species' health impacted if they recover from near extinction, but have lost some of the microbial biodiversity that protected them from bacteria infection or supported healthy digestion?
Island fox microbiome investigation will help us understand island fox health and may have implications for other endangered species.
Your donations supporting research are an investment in the island fox's long-term survival.
Friends of the Island Fox is taking applications
through August 31 for our
2021 Research Grant (see application)