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Brunner Lab Research

Ecology & evolution of amphibian pathogens

Ranaviruses are a group of emerging viruses that often, but not always, cause mass-mortality events in wild and cultured amphibians around the world. We study the evolutionary ecology of these viruses because of their potential conservation impacts, but also because they comprise a terrific model system for testing epidemiological and evolutionary theory. We can scale our studies from individuals in the lab to artificial populations and communities in mesocosms to natural populations in the wild. We focus on building a mechanistic understanding of disease transmission, but also study the persistence and virulence of these interesting viruses. Specific projects we are working on right now include:

  • Epidemiology and distribution of ranaviruses
  • Stress and disease susceptibility
  • Ranavirus transmission in a community context (e.g., how do microbes, scavengers, etc., affect transmission?)

Ecology of ticks & tick-borne disease

My post-doctoral work was on the community ecology of Lyme disease, in particular trying to provide strong experimental tests of the “dilution effect” hypothesis. The hypothesis is that certain host communities—in our case more diverse communities found in intact forests in the Northeast—tend to dilute the prevalence of the Lyme disease agent, Borrelia burgdorferi. We used a large-scale manipulation study to test this hypothesis as well as the mechanisms that may be at work. (For more information on the dilution effect and Lyme disease, I would direct you to Dr. Ostfeld’s website.) Along the way I’ve also done work on tick aggregation on hosts (especially the most competent hosts, white-footed mice), estimating reservoir competence, and the effects of climate on tick survival. Interesting tick-related questions keep popping up, so I’m sure this will continue to be a focus of this labs work. Current projects include:

  • Experimental tests of the dilution effect in tick-borne disease
  • The ecology of ticks and tick-borne disease in a changing climate