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Brunner Lab News

Tick survival paper published in Ecological Monographs

I’m pleased to have this paper—Off-house survival of blacklegged ticks—finally published! It represents the work of dozens of project assistants and two stellar research associates doing the hard work of finding ticks (>9000!) and putting them in bespoke “soil core enclosures” with data loggers only to dig them up weeks or months later to search them for live ticks! At three sites over three years! It was a monumental project and I extend my thanks to everyone that helped make this a reality!

Read a bit more about this work here.

Excited to welcome Pedro de Oliveira Viadanna as a postdoc!

 Pedro Viadanna is joining our lab from the University of Florida and we couldn’t be more excited! He has extensive experience in veterinary epidemiology, virus discovery, and more! He will be working on our NSF-funded project,“Socioeconomic and Epidemiological Drivers of Pathogen Dynamics in Wildlife Trade Networks” and will lead efforts in the Brunner lab to estimate the prevalence of three OIE- notifiable amphibian pathogens—Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), B. salamandrivorans (Bsal), and Ranavirus spp. (Rv)—among anonymous participating pet trade facilities.

Welcome to the lab, Pedro!!

New NSF EEID grant funded!

We are all atwitter about being award a new grant from the National Science Foundation Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases! Titled, “Socioeconomic and Epidemiological Drivers of Pathogen Dynamics in Wildlife Trade Networks,” this work focuses on understanding the factors that magnify or reduce the spread through and potential for pathogen spillover from the live animal trade. We are working closely with some terrific partners in the Amphibian Pet Trade, as well as sociologists, modelers, outreach specialists, and more. The work is being led by Matt Gray at the University of Tennessee and I am a co-PI for the WSU component (with Jonah Piovia-Scott).

Non-technical Summary:

The wildlife trade industry involves an estimated 2.5M live animals, valued >$300B USD, moving among >180 nations per year. This represents a key pathway for the evolution, emergence, and spread of novel pathogens.  Zoonotic and wildlife pathogens (e.g., SARS-CoV-2 and chytrid fungi, respectively) have cost global economies trillions of dollars, led to substantial human life and biodiversity loss, and been linked to wildlife trade. Managing disease in live animal trade networks presents distinctive challenges. Various socioeconomic factors can influence the decisions businesses make about the species they trade and the biosecurity practices they use, which in turn can influence the prevalence, persistence, and spread of pathogens. Therefore, animal trade networks represent a bidirectionally coupled system between pathogen-host ecology and decisions made by business, consumer, and government stakeholders (Fig. 1).

The overarching goal of this project is to identify how socioeconomic decisions made by stakeholders drive pathogen dynamics in a wildlife trade network and use this information to identify disease mitigation strategies that are economically viable and minimize spillover risk (i.e., pathogen transmission from captive to wild populations). This project is partnering with the U.S. wildlife trade industry and government stakeholders, and will facilitate discussions among them to identify strategies that promote clean trade, while considering socioeconomic impacts on the industry. The project uses a combination of socioeconomic surveys, facilitated discussions, pathogen surveillance, and controlled experiments to build a series of predictive models that can be used to guide policy decisions in wildlife trade and prevent the next global pandemic.

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.