My research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary drivers of genetic diversity, especially immune gene variation in wild populations. Selection mediated by parasites and mates is a strong interest.
Coevolution between human immune genes and pathogens
We are investigating how selection imposed by host immune responses has shaped pathogen genetic diversity.
Next Generation Sequencing and immune gene evolution: a comparative approach
I am comparing life-history traits, ecological factors, and parasite diversity across African rodents to better understand the evolutionary mechanisms that shape immune gene variation in wild populations. This large-scale project includes data from over 50 species of African rodents, and over 1000 individuals genotyped at the MHC Class II DRB locus using Next Generation Illumina sequencing.
Bat Genetic Immunity and Rabies
Bats host high viral diversity and have been implicated as the origins of a number of highly pathogenic emerging infectious diseases of humans and domestic animals. Despite much speculation on how the bat immune system might differ from other mammals in ways that promote viral circulation, surprisingly little is known about the genetic basis of immunity in bats.
The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is one of the best studied immune genes of vertebrates and is vitally important for effective immune response. The purpose of this project is to better understand bat genetic resistance to pathogens by characterizing the MHC in two bat species known to be reservoirs of rabies virus.
This research, in collaboration with Daniel Streicker, will illuminate the relationship between an immune gene shared by all vertebrates and resistance to rabies virus, and increase our understanding of this relationship in a spatially explicit context across wild bat populations.
Parasites, Mate Choice, and MHC
Parasites can have dramatic affects on their hosts' populations, for example, regulating them or causing them to cycle. Hosts that have historically been plagued with fitness reducing parasites may have adapted strategies to counter the harm caused by parasites, employing behavioral and/or genetic defenses.
I am primarily interested in the interaction between the parasite and the host, how that relationship over time has directed adaptations in both, and that interaction's effect on social behavior of the host.
I am particularly interested in how mating behavior (mate choice) is influenced by pathogens, and how animals can select mates to improve the genetic resistance of their offspring. A key question is how common are the mechanisms of parasite-mediated selection and sexual selection acting on immune gene diversity across mammals.
Evolution and Animal Behavior
I have worked at The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) on an ongoing study of social behavior in yellow-bellied marmots. I worked with Dr. Dan Blumstein to try to determine if marmots have the ability to recognize extant and locally extinct predator vocalizations.
Other marmot related work includes identifying what is being communicated when marmot pups scream and why they do it.