Dr Aura Raulo
I study the spread of symbiotic microbiota in the social contact networks of wild mice. My background is in island ecology, and this has led me to study wild animals as if they are moving islands, carrying a mini-ecosystem of bacteria inside of them. Whenever two animals come in close contact, there is a chance for these microbes to spread between them. Thus we can treat the social networks of animals as the road map (or bridge map) for microbiome transmission, which shapes the unique and influential gut microbial communities living inside these animals. To achieve this, I'm involved with developing new RFID-based tracking and trapping technology to collect high-resolution gut microbial and behavioural data. In addition, I'm developing Bayesian regression methods for analysing pairwise data, such as linking microbiota similarity between two individuals to the strength of their social association.
In addition to networks, my research circulates around patterns of ecological and evolutionary change. We use metaphors such as waves and trees to describe how a systems change across time: For example, to describe the history of a species, we can choose to see it as a wave of rise and decline of its abundance on Earth, or we can choose to see it as a branching of a phylogenetic tree. Across fields of science, there exists a variety of semantic and mathematical tools to describe patterns of change. By combining these tools across fields we can ask questions such as: Can we use the phylogenetic trees of animals to predict the evolutionary history of their gut microbes? Can we use mathematical models made to foresee stock market crashes to predict ecological disasters? Can we use concepts from research on musical or fashion genres to better capture temporal clusters in dynamic ecosystems? Can we use models of language evolution to enhance our models of horizontal vs vertical gene transfer in living systems?
My science is very much made possible by good metaphors, such as networks, trees and waves. When not submerged in experimental research, I work with artists, striving to find yet new clever metaphors and new ways to talk about complex systems of life.