Understanding the distribution and limitations of parasites and pathogens is becoming exceedingly important as increases in habitat and climate alterations are seen as well as the effects of introduced species. Malaria parasites infecting avian hosts can affect fitness, from physical condition and reproductive success to reduced survival rates, as well as being a source of emerging disease in non-endemic ranges. My research applies a molecular approach to examine and identify malaria in birds (including Plasmodium, Haemoproteus, Parahaemoproteus and Leucocytozoon) which, are transmitted by various dipteran species across the African continent. Samples of blood and or tissue were collected from the Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa. 2,500 birds have been sampled across these diverse countries and geographic regions (bioregions). Research studies have shown that avian malaria, like other pathogens, display heterogeneous distributions across the landscape. The objective of my research is to examine the influence of avian life history characteristics (i.e., social structure, flocking behavior, group size, feeding behavior, and habitat type), climatic data (rainfall, temperature, etc.), and the diverse suite of vectors transmitting parasites to better understand the distributional patterns of avian malaria parasites across contrasting bioregions.
I am also using model testing to determine predictor traits for host-parasite relationships given the broad array of life history strategies seen across birds. The biogeography of avian malaria parasites is not well understood, particularly with respect to avian migratory connectivity and the effects of avian life history characteristics on the host-parasite relationships. Avian life history traits, such as social structure, group size, feeding behavior, and habitat type, that may influence host switching and speciation of malaria parasites will be assessed to determine the effect of host ecology on malaria presence, transmission, and migratory connectivity. The expected result is to determine the avian life history characteristics that are predictors for malaria host switching in non-endemic regions across diverse bioregions and in the light of possible range expansions. This is critical to understanding the evolutionary processes underpinning avian malaria ecology.
2016-17 Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship, Texas A&M University
2015 American Ornithologists’ Union Research Award
2015 Marc Dresden Student Travel Grant, American Society of Parasitologists
2015 Frank M. Chapman Research Grant, American Museum of Natural History
2015 Aggies Commit Research Fellowship, Texas A&M University
2015 Graduate Students of Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences Seed