With every meal, herbivores eat a diet high in indigestible fiber and low in protein. To overcome these challenges, many herbivores house symbiotic microbes that ferment fiber and synthesize amino acids. However, many plants also produce toxic compounds that dissuade herbivores from eating them. Over 45 years ago, it was hypothesized that herbivores might also harbor microbes that help to detoxify their diets. We have been addressing this research topic in a number of herbivorous vertebrates
For example, the Desert Woodrat (Neotoma lepida), specializes on a toxic shrub, creosote bush. This plant produces a resin that is rich in carcinogenic phenolics. Every day woodrats consume enough enough creosote toxins to kill a lab mouse. We have demonstrated that the woodrat gut microbiome is impi A review article summarizing the findings of this research can be found here: [Link].
We have also collaborated with Dr. Jen S. Forbey to investigate microbial detoxification in the Greater Sage Grouse, which specialize on heavily-defended sage brush.