Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. in Biological Science

First Advisor

Erik F. Y. Hom

Second Advisor

Colin R. Jackson

Third Advisor

Susan Balenger


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Sloths are unusual mobile ecosystems containing a high diversity of symbionts living and growing in their fur. These symbionts include poorly studied algae, arthropods, fungi, and bacteria, making sloths likely reservoirs of unexplored biodiversity. I aim to identify gaps and eliminate misconceptions in our knowledge of sloths and their symbionts, and to identify key questions to spur future research into the functions and roles of sloths within a broader ecological and evolutionary context. I also seek to position the sloth fur ecosystem as a model for addressing fundamental questions in microbial and metacommunity ecology. I used whole-community shotgun metagenomic sequencing to investigate and clarify the genetic diversity of the prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbes in the hair of two sloth species, Bradypus variegatus and Choloepus hoffmanni, during the dry season in Costa Rica. Analysis of whole community sloth hair metagenomes from the shoulder and head of 11 sloths revealed microbial communities that are far more diverse than previously recognized on sloth hair and shodifferences in microbiomes based on sloth species. The abundance of cyanobacteria and green algae shotgun metagenomic sequencing revealed in sloth fur complicates the previously held belief that the green alga Trichophilus welckeri was responsible for the green coloration of three-fingered sloths. I demonstrate that whole-community metagenomic sequencing greatly increases the known diversity of microorganisms in the sloth hair ecosystem.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 31, 2022