Research interests

I am broadly interested in host-microbe and host-pathogen interactions, and understanding how these come together to affect host fitness and population dynamics. I am particularly interested in mobile host species, because these animals are exposed to a wide variety of microbes as they traverse the globe, and are hypothesized to disperse pathogens. Understanding how these animals interact with novel suites of microbes can inform us on their susceptibility to infection and their capacity to spread disease.  My interests include:

  • host-associated microbiomes
  • pathogen emergence
  • circadian rhythms
  • animal migration
  • ornithology

Scientific projects

During my PhD I examined a number of mechanisms that are proposed to be important for shaping the capacity of migrants to disperse pathogens, including 1) quantifying the effect of infection on migration performance in migratory hosts; 2) quantifying levels of bacterial transmission between novel foraging environments and migratory shorebirds; and 3) the relationship between long distance migration and gut microbiota dynamics in shorebirds. Currently, I am working projects that will provide recommendations on how best to investigate the effects of gut microbiota composition on host ecology, and whether the concept of the core microbiome is useful within a macro-ecological context.


Donadio J, Risely A, Müller-Klein N, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2022) Characterizing tuberculosis progression in wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) from faecal samples and clinical signs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 58(2), 309–321.

Müller-Klein N, Risely A, Schmid DW, Manser MB, Clutton-Brock T, Sommer S (2022) Two decades of tuberculosis surveillance reveal disease spread, high levels of exposure and mortality, and marked variation in disease progression in wild meerkats. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.

Risely A, Schmid DW, Müller-Klein N, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2022) Gut microbiota individuality is contingent on temporal scale and age in wild meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289, 20220609.

Alpízar P, Risely A, Tschapka M, Sommer S (2021) Agricultural fast food: Bats feeding in banana monocultures are heavier but have less diverse gut microbiomes. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 746783.

Risely A, Gillingham MAF, Béchet A, Brändel S, Heni A, Heurich M, Menke S, Manser M, Schmid J, Tschapka M, Wasimuddin, Sommer S (2021) Phylogeny- and abundance-based metrics allows for consistent comparison of core gut microbiome diversity indices across host species. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12, 659918.

Risely A, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2021) Diurnal oscillations in gut bacterial load and composition eclipse seasonal and lifetime dynamics in wild meerkats, Suricata suricatta. Nature Communications, 12, 6017.

Fleischer R, Risely A, Hoeck PEA, Keller LF, Sommer S (2020) Mechanisms governing avian phylosymbiosis: genetic dissimilarity based on neutral and MHC regions exhibits little relationship with gut microbiome distributions of Galápagos mockingbirds. Ecology and Evolution, 10, 13345–13354.

Blackburn, E., Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. and Cresswell, W. 2018. Light stalks increase the precision and accuracy of non-breeding locations calculated from geolocator tags: a field test from a long-distance migrant. In press. J. Avian Biol. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12509

Risely, A., Klaassen, M., & Hoye, B. 2017 Migratory animals feel the cost of getting sick: a meta-analysis across species. J. Anim. Ecol. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12766

Risely, A., Waite, D., Ujvari, B., Klaassen, M., & Hoye, B. 2017 Gut microbiota of a long-distance migrant demonstrates resistance against environmental microbe incursions. Mol. Ecol. DOI: 10.1111/mec.14326

Risely, A., Waite, D., Ujvari, B., Hoye, B., Klaassen, M. 2017 Active migration is associated with specific and consistent changes to gut microbiota in shorebirds. J. Anim. Ecol (Special issue: Host-microbe interactions). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12784

Blackburn, E., Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. and Cresswell, W. 2017. Low and annually variable migratory connectivity in a long-distance migrant: Whinchats Saxicola rubetra may show a bet-hedging strategy. Ibis. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12509

Blackburn, E., Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C., and Cresswell, W. 2016. An experimental evaluation of the effects of geolocator design and attachment method on between-year survival on whinchats Saxicola rubetra. J. Avian Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jav.00871

Risely, A., Blackburn, E. & Cresswell, W. 2015. Patterns in departure phenology and mass gain on African non-breeding territories prior to the Sahara crossing in a long-distance migrant. Ibis. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12288

Risely, A., Nightingale, J., Richardson, D.S. & Barr, I. 2013. Wing length and age, but not tarsus or mass, independently determine spring arrival at breeding territories in a long-distance migrant the Common Whitethroat, Sylvia communisBird Study. DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2013.846293

Blackburn, E., Burgess, M., Freeman, B., Risely, A., Izang, A., Ivande, S., Hewson, C. and Cresswell, W. Spring migration strategies of Whinchat Saxicola rubetra when successfully crossing potential barriers of the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. In press, Ibis.


  • Dr. Alice Risely
    Institute of Evolutionary Ecology
    and Conservation Genomics
    University of Ulm
    Albert-Einstein-Allee 11
    89081 Ulm
    Email: /