“Effects of Climate Change on Host-Pathogen Interactions in Chytridiomycosis” by Dr. Corinne Richards-Zawacki (SERDP Project RC-2638)
Clarifying the links between climate and wildlife host-pathogen interactions should provide valuable insight into the dynamics, ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, and offer direction for effective management of threatened populations. Chytridiomycosis, a disease from the Batrachochytrium fungi, has recently caused declines and extinctions of amphibian populations on several continents. The central objectives of this project were to (1) develop predictive models of chytridiomycosis based on an understanding of how current and future climate may impact the ecology, evolution and dynamics of this host-pathogen interaction; and (2) use the models to investigate the potential of alternative disease management tactics. The presentation discussed our models which use data from field surveys and experiments conducted by our team at field sites that span a variety of habitats and climates within the United States. Given the potential impact of climate change on disease, studies of this nature will be critical in developing strategies to promote the long-term health of threatened amphibians and other wildlife on Department of Defense (DoD) lands.
“Effects of Climate Change, Prescribed Fire and Plant Invasions on Tick-Borne Disease Risk” by Dr. Brian Allan (SERDP Project RC-2636)
Tick-borne diseases (TBDs) represent a major public health threat in North America, particularly for military personnel training on DoD installations. Ecological theory predicts that climate change will likely alter vector-borne disease transmission by a variety of direct and indirect pathways. This project explored several of the predicted consequences of climate change, including altered fire regimes and plant communities and their interactions with wildlife, for human risk of exposure to TBDs in the southeastern United States. Project-specific objectives were to (1) evaluate the interactions between fire and plant invasions spanning a gradient in fire management, invasive plant distribution and abundance, and climatic conditions across the southeastern United States; (2) quantify the effects of fire and plant invasions, and their interactions, for variation in wildlife abundance, tick abundance, tick infection rates, and TBD risk to humans; and (3) calibrate a spatially explicit model of TBD risk in response to fire-invasion interactions and incorporate simulations of climate change scenarios. Benefits of this project included an improved understanding of current TBD risk on DoD installations and of the potential consequences of climate change for TBD risk and human health.
Dr. Cori Richards-Zawacki is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the Director of Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, the university’s biological field station. Prior to these positions, she was an assistant professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University in New Orleans and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Dr. Richards-Zawacki has been studying the ecology and evolution of the interaction between amphibians and their Batrachochytrium fungal pathogens for the past 15 years, since an outbreak of chytridiomycosis in Panama devastated the amphibian populations she was studying as a graduate student. She continues her work in Panama, now attempting to uncover the mechanisms by which amphibian hosts have come to persist and, in some cases, recover from Batrachochytrium infections. Another major focus of her research is understanding and predicting the impacts of climate fluctuations on the amphibian-Batrachochytrium interaction. Dr. Cori Richards-Zawackicompleted bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and biology, and a doctoral degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Dr. Brian Allan is an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Allan has been on the faculty at the University of Illinois since 2010, He previously worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University's Tyson Research Center. Dr. Allan has studied ticks and tick-borne diseases for over 20 years. He is interested in how human-mediated global change, such as climate change and human land-use, affect human exposure risk. Since 2016, he has been funded by SERDP to investigate the impacts of climate change, prescribed fire and plant invasions on risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases on DoD installations in the southeastern United States. He received bachelor’s degrees in biology and zoological anthropology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a doctoral degree in evolution, ecology and population biology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.