It’s not often that live tadpoles are delivered to someone’s workplace. But that’s exactly what Patrick Mineo, assistant professor of biology at Elmhurst University, needed for his recent research. He was studying how the microbial communities that live in the gut of amphibians impact the animals’ ability to tolerate high temperatures.
Mineo’s work, made possible by a Faculty Research Grant from Elmhurst’s Faculty Development Committee, was published earlier this spring in the prestigious academic journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Mineo had been thinking for a few years about how microbes affect the ability of amphibians to survive in different temperatures, but his interest was rekindled when he read a paper on a similar topic in 2018 from the biological sciences department at the University of Pittsburgh. He emailed the authors, Ph.D. student Samantha Fontaine and Assistant Professor Kevin Kohl, met them at a conference, then began to work with them on these questions.
For the study, the three raised tadpoles in normal pond water or sterile water. They found that the tadpoles in sterile water had reduced microbiomes and could not tolerate higher temperatures. “Their survival was reduced at higher temperatures. Their locomotive performance—a measure of their ability to escape a predator—was impaired at high temperatures,” Mineo said. “And we found evidence that components of their energy metabolism were also lower in the depleted animals.”
The findings point to a warming climate as a threat to not just tadpoles, but amphibians in general because they are so sensitive to their environments.
“The collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh allowed us to address high-impact questions that require expertise to come together between different sub-disciplines in biology,” Mineo said.