In mammals, worms that live in the digestive tract can bias their hosts' immune systems away from inflammatory responses. Our data suggest that such processes could help drive differences in immune responses like fever and sickness behaviors (lethargy) in song sparrows. For her MS work Grace Vaziri performed field experiments to determine if this is the case.
Once infected, a host can attempt to kill the infecting pathogen (resistance) and/or minimize per-pathogen reductions in fitness (tolerance). Although inflammatory responses like fever, free-radical production, and localized swelling can help clear a variety of parasites (i.e., increase resistance), these responses have a high potential to damage a host's own tissues (i.e., decrease tolerance). In collaboration with Dana Hawley and Rami Dalloul at Virginia Tech, I am investigating the mechanistic and evolutionary relationships among inflammatory responses, tolerance, and pathogen transmission in house finches infected with Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a bacterial pathogen that first jumped from poultry into wild songbirds in the 1990s.
In addition, we ask how animal diseases move across the wild-domestic interface, considering the potential for transfer in both directions.
Work in the lab has centered on North American songbirds, but we’re always happy to collaborate on projects focused on other critters.