Forsman’s research group uses DNA metabarcoding techniques to characterize biodiversity from mixed community samples such as host-associated microbial communities (e.g., gut microbiome) and diet samples.
One exciting project that is nearing completion is a large-scale collaboration exploring sea turtle diet with Erin Seney of the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group and the Department of Biology. This work has been led to a large extent by undergraduate student Christine Sarkis (UCF ’21), who has been working with Forsman since her freshman year. The overall objective of this project is to develop DNA metabarcoding techniques for surveying diet items in the digesta of green sea turtles to better understand their foraging ecology, particularly during the ontogenetic shift in diet that occurs with recruitment.
Under the guidance of Forsman, Christine has selected, tested and optimized metabarcoding primer pairs targeting various portions of the genome to maximize detection of diverse diet item constituting the green sea turtle’s omnivorous diet. A total of six primers made the final cut and have been used to prepare metabarcoding libraries for Illumina sequencing. During Fall 2020, these sequence data will be analyzed by Christine to characterize the diet of 39 green sea turtles and then compared with diet composition assessed by visual inspection (Seney) to ground-truth this new method.
In addition, diet composition will be compared with gut microbiome composition (Forsman) to begin exploring relationships between these two important factors that influence digestive efficiency and sea turtle health.
Pilot data from this project have been presented by Christine in 2019 at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology and also at the International Sea Turtle Symposium. Christine is also the 2020 recipient of the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation Scholarship for her research activities and dedication to sea turtle conservation.