My research centers around the following questions:
1. Which parasites do different animal host species carry? Which are shared between species, and which are host specific? Do these wildlife hosts possess any parasites in common with humans?
2. How are parasites distributed throughout host populations? Does each host individual have an equal share of parasites? If not, who tends to have more or less parasites, males/females, old/young, breeders/non-breeders.
3. How do parasites affect the health of their hosts? Are individuals with certain parasites actually sick or unhealthy? Do they exhibit different behaviors? Do parasitized individuals alter their diet (e.g. to self-medicate)? Do healthy individuals avoid parasitized individuals?
4. If we think of the host as the environment, then how do multiple parasites within the same host interact? These situations are referred to as concomitant infections, and they are the norm in nature. Parasites can interact directly by competing for space or other resources, or indirectly by activating or deactivating aspects of the host immune system. Do parasites that are in the same tissue interact more strongly than parasites that are in separate tissues?
To study disease ecology in wild animal populations, I screen for parasites and pathogens from non-invasively collected fecal samples. The main methods for detection include microscopy and molecular (genetic) screening. Additionally, with logistical support from Field Projects International, I am able to collect ectoparasites, blood samples, and mucosal swabs via mark and recapture programs. You can learn more about the annual sampling effort on the FPI website.