My research centers around the following questions:
1. Which parasites do different primate host species carry? Which are shared between species, and which are host specific? Do these primates 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 tamarins I, like most parasite studies of wild primate populations, screen non-invasively collected fecal samples. However, through our mark and recapture program, I am also able to collect blood samples for hemoparasites, and scan the external surface of an animal for ectoparasites. I use stained blood smears, targeted probes for genetic screening of fecal samples, flotation and sedimentation in conjunction with microscopy, and genomics, to evaluate the samples I collect.