Caribou Ungava ( is a vast research program focusing on the ecology of migratory caribou populations and associated species in a context of climatic and anthropogenic change. The aim of this program is to identify the factors influencing variations in the abundance of populations of the two large migratory caribou herds in northern Quebec and Labrador, which have recently experienced drastic declines. In this context, we are looking for a PhD student interested in getting involved in a project on the microbiota of caribou, muskoxen and moose. This research project aims to gain a better understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors underlying the homeostasis of the interaction between these ungulates and their community of microbial symbionts (microbiota).

Microbiota, nemabiota and health in caribou and other northern ungulates 

Issue: In northern regions, environmental changes are altering biological systems, leading to growing concerns about the health and persistence of many populations and species. Animal performance can be affected by changes in the network of interactions between organisms. Caribou, muskoxen and moose show contrasting demographic trends, either expanding locally (muskoxen, moose) or declining (caribou). Symbiotic microbial communities associated with animals (microbiota) exert a major influence on the health of their hosts and, consequently, on their population dynamics. Intestinal nematodes can also alter the composition of the microbiota (e.g. diversity, dysbiosis), with consequent effects on host health. It is therefore essential to quantify the influence of environmental factors (diet) and internal factors (nemabiota, genotype, physical condition) on changes in the microbiota of populations. The study of the health of northern ungulate populations must therefore consider the composition of the diet in a diet-microbiota-nemabiota interaction. 

Objectives: Evaluate how the diet-microbiota-nemabiota interaction affects the fitness and population dynamics of three ungulate species (caribou, muskox, moose). We will test the extent to which individual species, sex and age class, as well as population demographic trajectory, influence microbiota and nemabiota composition. We predict that the diversity of plants consumed positively influences the composition of the microbiota, which in turn influences the composition of the nemabiota. 

Approach: We will base our analysis on the monitoring of migratory caribou (n=100), woodland caribou (n=100), moose (n~80), and muskoxen (n~150) captured between 2017 and 2024. We will analyze the microbiota (buccal swab), nemabiota (feces) and diet (feces) for all species, as well as the multi-loci genotype (ear biopsy) of caribou. The taxonomic composition of the microbiota, nemabiota and diet will be characterized using a molecular barcoding approach (i.e. metataxonomy). Host genetic diversity (caribou only) will be documented using a recently developed caribou microarray. Mass will be used as a measure of physical condition for all animals. 

Director : Nicolas Derome (Département de biologie, U. Laval) 

Co-director : Claude Robert (Faculté des Sciences de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation, U. Laval) 

Collaborators : Joelle Taillon (MELCCFP), Glenn Yannic (U. Savoie), Steeve Côté (U. Laval) 

Start: between May and September 2024. 

Grant: 21 000$/year stipend, 4 years. 

Skills required: 

  • MSc in biology, biochemistry, microbiology or related discipline; 
  • Be rigorous, autonomous and have scientific writing skills; 
  • First author of at least one paper in a refereed journal;
  • A basic knowledge of French and/or willingness to learn it; 

Ability in genomic analysis, metataxonomy (e.g. 16S metabarcoding), or in the R environment will be considered an asset. 

To apply, please send by 31/01/2024 a cover letter briefly explaining your interests, a CV and a copy of your university transcripts, along with the contact details of three references to: 

Nicolas Derome, Département de biologie, Université Laval, Québec (Québec) Canada