Karen Sullam

Universität Basel,
Zoologisches Institut
Vesalgasse 1
CH-4051 Basel


+41 (0)61 207 03 72

+41 (0)61 207 03 62



Karen Sullam

Post-doctoral Researcher in the group of Prof. Dieter Ebert.

Research interests

My research interests lie at the intersection of ecology and evolutionary biology, and my research focuses on how animal-associated bacterial communities are structured and how they can impact host biology. During my dissertation, I studied the intraspecific variation in the gut communities of Trinidadian guppies and lake and stream sticklebacks as well as interspecific variation among fish from Lake Tanganyika. I used these systems to explore symbiont acquisition and the forces that drive shifts in gut bacteria. For my post-doctoral research, I plan to investigate how genetic background and host disease state influences the microbial communities of Daphnia magna.


Curriculum vitae

2014-ongoing Post-doctoral research at the Zoological Institute, University of Basel, Switzerland    
2007-2013 Ph.D. Drexel University, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Thesis title, "Patterns, causes and consequences of gut microbial community variation across fish" PhD supervisors: Susan Kilham and Jacob Russell    
2011-2012 Visiting student researcher on U.S. Fulbright-Swiss Government Grant. ETH Zürich & Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Switzerland. Project supervisors: Blake Matthews and Helmut Bürgmann    
2002-2006 B.A. Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, USA. Major: Biology (with Honors); Minor Environmental Studies    

Research Awards and Fellowships

2013 Drexel University Office of Graduate Studies Dissertation Fellowship    
2011-2012 U.S. Fulbright-Swiss Government Research Grant    
2012 National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DEB-1210695)    
2011 American Cichlid Association Guy Jordan Research Fund Award    
2010 Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research    
2007 James H. Glass Fellowship for research in Biology, Hamilton College    
2007 The Elihu Root Fellowship for research in Science, Hamilton College    
2005 National Science Foundation K-12 Teaching Fellowship, Conducted outreach education in conjunction with the Duke University Marine Lab    


2014 Spring Supervisor of an undergraduate 'Zoology Block course' project, with two 3rd-year B.Sc. students in Biology, University of Basel    
2007-2012 Teaching Assistant for Cells and Genetics, Essential Biology, Applied Biology, Molecular Ecology, Organismal Diversity and Ecology, Physiology and Nutrition in the Department of Biology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA    
Summer 2010 Grading Assistant for Environmental Science and Society in the Department of Biology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA    



  • Sullam, K.E., B. Matthews, T. Aebischer, O. Seehausen, H. Bürgmann (In Press) The effect of top-predator presence and phenotype on aquatic microbial communities Ecology and Evolution.
  • Matthews, B., T. Aebischer, K.E. Sullam, B. Lundsgaard-Hansen, O. Seehausen (2016) Experimental evidence of an eco-evolutionary feedback during adaptive divergence. Current Biology 26, 483-489.
  • Sullam, K.E., B.E.R. Rubin, C.M. Dalton, S.S. Kilham, A.S. Flecker, J.A. Russell (2015) Divergence across diet, time, and populations rules out parallel evolution in the gut microbiomes of Trinidadian guppies. ISME Journal 9, 1508-1522.pdf link
  • Sullam, K.E.*, C.M. Dalton*, J.A. Russell, S.S. Kilham, R. El-Sabawaii, D.P. German, A.S. Flecker (2015) Changes in digestive traits and body nutritional composition accommodate a trophic niche shift in Trinidadian guppies. Oceologia 177, 245-257.pdf link
  • Sullam, K.E., S.D. Essinger, C.A. Lozupone, M.P. O’Connor, G.L. Rosen, R. Knight, S.S. Kilham, and J.A. Russell (2012) Environmental and ecological factors that shape the gut bacterial communities of fish: a meta-analysis. Molecular Ecology 21, 3363–3378. Published with corresponding perspective piece by S. Wong and J.F. Rawls.pdf link perspective
  • Anderson, K.E., J.A. Russell, C.S. Moreau, S. Kautz, K.E. Sullam, Y. Hu, U. Basinger, B.M. Mott, N. Buck, and D.E. Wheeler (2012) Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species. Molecular Ecology 21, 2282–2296. Published with corresponding perspective piece by M. Poulsenand and P. Sapountzis.pdf link perspective
  • Matthews B., A. Narwani, S. Hausch, E. Nonaka, H. Peter, M. Yamamichi, K.E. Sullam, K.C. Bird, M.K. Thomas, T.C. Hanley, and C.B. Turner (2011) Toward an integration of evolutionary biology and ecosystem science. Ecology Letters 14, 690-701. pdf link

Contributed Talks and Posters

  • Sullam, K.E., C.M. Dalton, J.A. Russell, S.S. Kilham, A. Flecker. 2012. Gut responses of Trinidadian guppies to different diets. Oral Presentation at the 97th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Portland, OR, USA.
  • Sullam, K.E., S.S. Kilham, J.A. Russell. 2011. Distinct gut bacterial communities across wild Trinidadian guppy populations. Poster Presentation at the 96th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Austin, TX, USA.
  • Sullam, K.E., S. Essinger, S. Rosen, S.S. Kilham., and J.A. Russell. 2010. Environmental and evolutionary factors that shape gut bacterial communities of fish. Poster presentation at the 13th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology. Seattle, WA, USA.
  • Sullam, K.E., S. Essinger, S. Rosen, S.S. Kilham., and J.A. Russell. 2010. Environmental and evolutionary factors that shape gut bacterial communities of fish: a meta-analysis. Poster presentation at the 95th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
  • Sullam, K.E., S.S. Kilham, J.F. Gilliam, B.A. Lamphere, C.M. Pringle, E. Zandonà and J.A. Russell. 2009. The Use of Molecular Techniques in Stream Food Webs. Poster Presentation at Evolution Meeting. Moscow, ID, USA.
  • Sullam, K.E., and M.E. Hedges. 2006. Nesting Trends and Spatial Patterns of Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. Poster presentation at the 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, Island of Crete, Greece.

Other contributions

Reviewing work

ISME Journal, PNAS, Molecular Ecology, Evolutionary Applications, Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, Scientific Reports, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Microbial Ecology

Scientific activities & services

  • Served on Drexel University Fulbright Campus Review Committee in 2012
  • Panelist on International Research Collaborations Workshop hosted by Drexel University in 2012
  • Vice President of Academic Affairs, Graduate Women in Science & Engineering, Drexel University (2012-2013)
  • Service Chair, Biology Graduate Student Association, Drexel University (2010-2011)
  • President, Biology Graduate Student Association, Drexel University (2009-2010)
  • Treasurer, Biology Graduate Student Association at Drexel University (2008-2009)