Hawley Lab Members
- BIOL 4404: Ornithology
- BIOL 4564/5564: Infectious Disease Ecology
My research program investigates the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that underlie pathogen susceptibility within and across ecological scales, from single host individuals up to multi-host communities. I approach disease ecology from a multi-disciplinary perspective in order to understand how individual physiology, pathogen virulence, social behavior, and environmental context all interact to influence host disease response. My current research projects are briefly described below:
- Social behavior and disease. Social behavior in animals can have profound effects on susceptibility to infectious diseases. My lab studies changes in individual physiology in social environments, differences in exposure among group members, and how the presence of behavioral and visible cues of infection can alter the behavior of sick and healthy individuals. We use two host-pathogens systems for this line of work: a North American backyard songbird, the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), and its bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma gallisepticum and 2) a cooperative small mammal, banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) in Botswana, and its recently emerged Mycobacterium pathogen in the tuberculosis complex. The second line of work is in collaboration with Dr. Kathy Alexander in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Science.
- Evolution of pathogen virulence in a novel host. Because directly transmitted pathogens rely exclusively on their hosts for their own survival, the harm that they incur on hosts (=virulence) should be minimized if it compromises transmission. We are studying the evolution of virulence in the directly transmitted pathogen of North American house finches- Mycoplasma gallisepticum. This pathogen is a Mollicute (wall-less) bacterium that relies strongly on its host for survival, and therefore would be predicted to cause minimal virulence. Using isolates of Mycoplasma archived from wild house finches, we have documented spatial and temporal changes in virulence in Mycoplasma gallisepticum since its emergence in house finches, a novel host, in the early 1990s. Ultimately, we aim to link spatiotemporal changes in Mycoplasma virulence in the wild with geographic differences in host ecology and behavior, which ultimately determine the probability of transmission.
- Land Use and Vector-Host Communities. The maintenance of zoonotic arboviruses such as West Nile virus in natural populations is highly dependent on the presence of competent vectors and vertebrate reservoirs (in the case of West Nile, songbirds). How do logging techniques influence the abundance of mosquitoes that are good vectors of arboviruses such as West Nile or LaCrosse virus, an encephalitis-virus endemic to southwest Virginia? How does logging impact the presence of competent vertebrate reservoirs such as songbirds and chipmunks (for LaCrosse virus)? We are using experimentally logged forest plots in the Jefferson National Forest to examine how this form of land use alters vector and host communities, as well as their interaction (e.g. to what extent mosquitoes feed on particular vertebrate hosts across habitat). The results of this work will provide direct insight into the link between forest canopy disturbance and spatial clustering of vectors and infected reservoir hosts that will likely be applicable across a range of sylvatic disease systems currently being affected by land use changes and rapid urbanization.
|A male house finch with visible symptoms of Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection.|
Note to Prospective Students:
My research integrates diverse subdisciplines including disease ecology, behavioral ecology, molecular evolution, population and community ecology, and immunology. I hope to attract students who have equally broad interests, the persistence to bridge disparate fields, and a strong foundation in the theory and practice of ecology and evolutionary biology. If you are interested in joining my lab, please email me a summary of your general research interests and a copy of your CV.