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Brunner Lab News

Congratulations to Emily!

Emily Burton recently was awarded a research grant from the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station in Rensselaerville, New York! Her research, as the title of the proposal states, is focused on “Estimating encounters between blacklegged ticks and hosts,” which is a challenging, but very important goal for understanding what limits tick populations, whether they can or should be “choosy”, and more. Congratulations Emily!

Offering a workshop on making better sense of your data with DAGs at the GARD conference

I will be offering a workshop at the Global Amphibian and Reptile Disease conference in Knoxville this August. You can find more information about it here:–field-trips

Our statistics, from regressions to SEMs, are association machines. They cannot, by themselves, tell us anything about causation, but only the degree and direction of statistical associations. We can, however, use Directed Acyclic Graphs to help us understand and test the consequence of assumed causal relationships, which can help us infer causation from statistical associations. That is, just by drawing a box-and-arrow sort of graph, we can make better sense of our data, related to amphibian and reptile health and beyond!

In this workshop we’ll cover the basics of DAGs, identify their testable implications, and learn why throwing all of our variables into a regression often makes our inference worse, not better. Our primary goal will be to place you, the researcher, back in the driver seat of your statistical inference. We will work with a handful of examples relevant to infectious disease research and practice drawing and thinking about causal diagrams based on our own research questions.

This workshop is ideal for students beginning to design their own studies, but is also intended for those wishing to develop a more formal version of their hard-won intuition for their own research or teaching.

Survey of the U.S amphibian pet trade, executive summary out

Some members of the lab have been working with an interesting group of academics (Matt Gray, Neelam Pudyal, and others) and people in the pet trade (Reptiles by Mack, Josh’s Frogs) and one of their member organizations (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) to better understand the U.S. amphibian pet trade—composition, connections, values, practices, etc.—and eventually to understand how these factors might mitigate or magnify the spread of microbes, both good and bad ones. We obtained a pilot grant from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, One Health Initiative to conduct pilot work. Part of that was a survey of businesses and consumers. The executive summary is now available here:

Website link:  (posted at bottom)

Direct link:

New aquatic phenomics system opening

Erica Crespi has been hard at work over the last few years developing a new aquatic phenomics system. It has capabilities to measure behavior and physiology (e.g., metabolic rate) en-masse and under controlled light, temperature, and chemical conditions. I think it will be a game-changer for our work, going forward. Read more about it here:


A fond farewell and a happy hello

We in the BrunnerLab wish Madelyn Kirsch the best as she starts graduate school at Oklahoma in the Siler lab (where Kai Wang went, some years back). She is thrilled to get to combine the dissection, extraction, and qPCR skillz she developed in my lab (thanks for busting through all those samples, Madelyn!) and her deep and unflagging interest in amphibians, especially salamanders, in her research. Good luck, Madelyn!

We are also thrilled to welcome Bob Pearhill to the lab! Bob comes to us from Carrol College, where he was involved in Bd and WNV research, via a stint helping run clinical trials in Seattle. He seems up for anything, so we’ll undoubtedly get him helping out on numerous things while he sorts out his own research directions. Welcome to the fray, Bob!

Two new publications out!

I’m pleased (and relieved) to see two manuscripts become available.

The first is a book chapter in Hurst’s Studies in Viral Ecology written with V. Greg Chinchar and Amanda Duffus. It summarizes much of what we know about ranavirus in amphibians, plus what we know about some others, especially amphibian herpes viruses (e.g., Lucke’s Tumor herpesvirus). I learned a lot in reading what Greg and Amanda wrote. I hope you get something out of it, too. Please email me for a copy if you’re interested.

The second is the last contribution to a special issue of FACETS on ranaviruses, stemming from the last International Ranavirus Symposium. It summarizes what we’ve found in terms of trends in the Global Ranavirus Reporting System (TL;DR: most of what we know come from amphibians in N.A., Europe, and SE Asia; we know little about ranaviruses in reptiles and shockingly little from fishes, given their _huge_ diversity). Strange thing: right after we submitted for review the original GRRS went down and the kind folks at EcoHealth Alliance who had built it for us were busy with other things (something or other about a pandemic?), so we had to rebuild it from scratch with a downloaded version. Learned a lot about Shiny apps in the process. The link is and from there you can find the other contributions to that issue.


Paper on clean aquatics trade published

On sabbatical, and thanks to Christian Yarber’s M.S. thesis work, I was puzzling through how one could detect pathogens in the huge trade of aquatic animals. I ended up sorting out the statistical side of the question in this new manuscript:

Brunner, J. L. 2020. Pooled samples and eDNA-based detection can facilitate the “clean trade” of aquatic animals. Scientific Reports 10:10280.

I has generated a little bit of press, too, which is fun, but I am hoping that it generates interest from the pet industry, USFWS, and others interested in minimizing the risk of pathogen emergence and spillover.

Environmental DNA detection could cut pathogens in pet trade


Emily Hall’s last chapter on salt and susceptibility published!

This is a neat series of studies that collectively suggest that the stress-susceptibility hypothesis—chronic physiological stressors can be immunocompromising and lead to more and more deadly epidemics—works, but not exactly in the way we’d expected. It is also one of very few examples where all of the links in the logic are spelled out. Congratulations Emily! (Note: Emily is now a Postdoc with Louis Rollins-Smith at Vanderbilt.)

Emily M. Hall, Jesse L. Brunner, Brandon Hutzenbiler and Erica J. Crespi (2020) Salinity stress increases the severity of ranavirus epidemics in amphibian populations. Proc. R. Soc. B.28720200062

Great Bsal symposium at TWS/AFS conference in Reno

I was fortunate to participate in a great day-long symposium on Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) at The Wildlife Society / American Fisheries Society conference in Reno, Nevada last week. It was organized by Matt Gray and Jamie Voyles and featured a lot of recent results on susceptibility, microbial and immune defenses, and even mathematical models of Bsal transmission. Very cool! Thanks Matt and Jamie!

I presented on the potential for using eDNA to screen whole shipments of animals for Bsal or other pathogens. Now I just need to submit the paper!

Our work featured in Washington State Magazine!

Our research on amphibian disease (detection, stress and susceptibility and so on) as well as that of our collaborators (Erica Crespi, Caren Goldberg, Allan Pessier, Jonah Piovia-Scott) is featured in an article in Washington State Magazine. Thanks to Rebecca Phillips for both covering such an important topic and writing such a nice piece!

[Let me note that the graduate students involved in this work are not mentioned by name, so let me highlight that Christian Yarber is working on the eDNA-based detection of Bsal in trade and Erin Keller, as well as undergraduate Madelyn Kirsch, have been working very hard on the stress-susceptibility hypothesis with ranavirus and wood frogs. Thank you!!!]

Where have all the frogs gone?