RESEARCH

Here is a flavour of some current research projects of the group

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    HOUSE FINCH- Mycoplasma

    Host-pathogen coevolution following a host-shift

    AVIAN MALARIA

    Haemosporidian blood parasites in passerines of the Pyrenees

    AVIAN Diseases in Galapagos

    Avian disease emergence in Darwin's finches and other endemics

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    BaRCODING GALAPAGOS

    Catalogue the biodiversity of Galapagos 

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    Leprosy iN chimpanzees

    Severe leprosy in wild chimpanzee populations

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      OUTREACH IN SCHOOLS

      Herring gulls as models for talking about human-wildlife conflict

      House Finch Mycoplasma

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      - A unique opportunity to study a devastating epizootic; tracking parasite-host coevolution  - 

      Male house finch
      Male house finch

      Photo by Geoff Hill

      Male house finch
      Male house finch

      Lab life
      Lab life

      Luc Tardy

      Male house finch
      Male house finch

      Photo by Geoff Hill

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      In the mid-1990s, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a common bacterial pathogen of poultry, jumped into a wild North American songbird, the house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), triggering a devastating epizootic that killed millions of birds. This epizootic is not only of one of the best documented emerging infectious outbreaks in the wild, but it is also one that was left to evolve naturally without any human intervention. As such, it offers a unique opportunity to understand how bacterial pathogens jump into new hosts, how they adapt to these novel hosts, and how hosts evolve resistance. We combine experimental work in vivo and in vitro with molecular, immunological and microbiological approaches to study host and pathogen co-evolution over the course of this epizootic. 

       

      This work is funded by NERC and a Royal Society Research Grant, and conducted with Luc Tardy (PhD student).

       

      Avian Malaria

      - Determinants of parasite distributions; host species, climate, and parasite-parasite interactions - 

      Emerging diseases are expected to increase under climate change as pathogens colonise new areas and infect new host populations. We examine how climate change might affect the interaction between malaria parasites and their avian hosts in the French Pyrenees, where altitude (and hence climate), but not habitat or day length, varies significantly over short distances. In closely monitored nest-box populations of great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus); located over short geographical distances (4-16km) and at various altitudes (400-1600m), we are comparing the prevalence, species richness and seasonality of malaria parasites. Mixed infections are common and so we additionally explore interactions between parasites; within individual hosts and at the population level.

       

      This work is funded by a Royal Society International Exchange Grant and conducted by Josh Lynton-Jenkins (PhD student).

      Young great tit
      Young great tit

      Recently fledged Parus major.

      Young blue tit
      Young blue tit

      Recently fledged Cyanistes caeruleus,

      Castera
      Castera

      A view from Castera in late autumn.

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      Young great tit

      Recently fledged Parus major.

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      Avian diseases in Galapagos

      - Emerging threats in iconic host species, studying disease introductions on a remote archipelago  - 

      Field Course
      Field Course

      Jaime Chaves demonstrating in the field

      Small ground finch
      Small ground finch

      Female Geospiza fuliginosa feeding on Opuntia flower

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      Small ground finch

      Male Geospiza fuliginosa on San Cristóbal island

      Field Course
      Field Course

      Jaime Chaves demonstrating in the field

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      Populations introduced to novel pathogens are often the most vulnerable and can suffer a high cost. Such was the case when Plasmodium relictum was introduced to Hawaii, contributing to the extinction of dozens of endemic bird species. We aim to understand how pathogens become established in novel populations by studying their introduction to Darwin’s finch species in the Galápagos. This isolated archipelago has evolved a unique avifauna. However, over the past 200 years humans have facilitated the introduction of two key pathogens; avian pox (Avipoxvirus) and avian malaria (Haemosporidia). By screening for these diseases, we aim to determine their prevalence, distribution, and potential costs in these naive hosts. This effort will help reveal emerging threats to iconic bird species within a unique UNESCO world heritage site.

      This work is being carried out by Josh Lynton-Jenkins (PhD student) in collaboration with Jaime Chaves (USFQ, Ecuador & SFSU,USA).

       
       

      Barcoding Galapagos

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      - An ambitious citizen science project to document biodiversity in Galapagos -

      Nearly 200 years ago, the unique biota of Galapagos inspired amongst the greatest scientific revolutions in history – Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Today, this Natural World Heritage site (est.1976) and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (est.1984) also inspires pioneering models of sustainability, conservation and eco-tourism. Such models are celebrated for their long-term solutions to existing tensions between the preservation of biodiversity and the social-economic well-being of local inhabitants. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed their vulnerability to short-term perturbation. We are in the process of training and employing >80 naturalist guides to catalogue the biodiversity of Galapagos. This ‘Barcode of Life’ project will ensure that: (1) the genetic profile of Galapagos is documented so that the direct and indirect impacts of environmental perturbations can be quantified; and (2) naturalist guides receive immediate capacity building employment. Our aim is to help guide future attempts at using locally-driven research to improve the socio-economic well-being and resilience of key workers in the eco-tourism industry.

       

      This project is conducted with the Galapagos Science Centre and University San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador) and funded by a UKRI GCRF grant.

      For more information about this project you can visit the website.

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      Leprosy in wild chimpanzees

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      - Severe infections with Mycobacterium leprae in wild chimpanzee populations -

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      This project is conducted in collaboration with Kim Hockings (U Exeter), Fabian Leendertz and Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer (Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, Germany) and funded by a Darwin's grant.

       

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