Professor Robert Poulin
Since arriving here from Canada in 1992, I have established a research programme in parasite ecology and evolution that focuses on broad questions and not on any particular taxa. Currently, our research has three main branches, reflecting my main long-term interests. First, we investigate the forces shaping the evolution of parasites, in particular the evolution of life history traits such as body size and fecundity, host specificity, the ability to manipulate host behaviour, and the complexity of the transmission pathways. Second, we are studying the role of parasites in freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems, i.e. how they affect community diversity and productivity and food web stability, and how parasitism may interact with climate change to influence the properties of ecosystems. Third, I have long been exploring large-scale patterns of parasite biodiversity and biogeography, in the hope of better understanding the processes behind the diversification and distribution of parasites and diseases.
Dr Clément Lagrue (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
I am from France where I received a MSc in Ecology and Evolution in 2004 (University of Burgundy). For my Masters project, I tested the adaptiveness of behavioural changes in amphipods infected by acanthocephalans. I then came to New Zealand in 2005 to do my PhD here at Otago, looking at why parasites with complex life cycles evolve alternative life history strategies, such as life cycle truncation. From 2009 to 2012, I moved back to France where I worked as a postdoctoral fellow (1 year in Toulouse, 2 years in Dijon). During this time I diversified my interests. Firstly, I studied the consequences of altered riparian vegetation and invasive crayfish on stream ecosystem functioning. Secondly, I investigated cryptic diversity in freshwater amphipods and tested its implications for ecological processes (reproductive isolation, assortative mating, parasitism). Now back at Otago on a Marsden-funded project (2012-2015), I will apply network analysis to parasitism within food webs. Using New Zealand lakes, we will determine how an animal's position in the food chain determines its risk of acquiring parasites, how parasites use flows of energy through the web for their transmission, and how a food web's architecture might mitigate the impact of parasites. Our research seeks general patterns of parasite transmission in freshwater systems, and will use comparisons with other systems to assess the universality of these patterns.
Dr Fátima Jorge (Research Associate)
I am from Portugal, where I completed my BSc, MSc and PhD at the University of Porto. I initiated my research experience in parasitology during a volunteer internship at the Portuguese Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, working with an experimental model of infection of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). During my Masters and PhD research, I mainly focused on the evolutionary history of host-parasite associations in a group of parasitic nematodes of reptiles. I first came to Otago as a visitor student during my PhD. Now back in the group, I aim at understanding how parasite biodiversity is spatially distributed and how it evolves across different host groups. I believe that revealing the patterns and mechanisms behind parasite diversity is vital to understanding and managing parasites, and has implications for evolutionary biology, conservation, and human health.
Dr Christian Selbach (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
I am originally from Germany, where I studied English and Biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. During this time, I spent a year at the University of Waikato in Hamilton (more travelling than studying, I must admit). In my PhD project at the Department of Aquatic Ecology in Essen, I studied the biology and ecology of digenean trematodes parasitizing aquatic snails in the Ruhr reservoir system in Germany. This work resulted in a comprehensive dataset that allowed me to analyse the role of these important parasites in man-made waterbodies and provided new insights into their contribution to the ecosystem's biodiversity and biomass, as well as their medical relevance as human pathogens. After my dissertation, I joined the Water Research Group at the North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa as a postdoctoral fellow, where I investigated the complex interplay between native and invasive snail hosts and their parasites. In Dunedin, I will work on a DFG-funded project (German Research Foundation) that looks at the transmission abilities and predator evasion of free-swimming trematode cercariae. This study will provide valuable insights into the structuring forces that determine parasite dispersal and thus shape parasite communities in ecosystems.
Tony Stumbo (PhD student)
I am from Minnesota, and received my Bachelor's degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead in ecology and evolutionary biology. My primary research interests revolve around fish behaviour, stemming from the mentorship of Dr. Brian Wisenden at MSUM. My interest in parasitology and its effect on host behaviour, both pre and post infection, developed during my Master's degree under Dr. Cameron Goater at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. After working in a toxicology lab for a year, I am excited to return to research on fish behaviour and parasites. My PhD will primarily focus on the impact of eye-infecting parasites on the behaviour of the common bully, a native New Zealand freshwater fish.
Henry Lane (PhD student)
Originally from Muriwai Beach, Auckland, I graduated with a BSc and MSc from Victoria University of Wellington. After completing my MSc in 2013, I took up my current post as a Laboratory Technician at the Animal Health Lab, Ministry for Primary Industries, working within the Bacteriology, Aquatic Animal Disease and Fishery Forensic team. An insatiable enthusiasm for the marine environment has developed through recreational exposure and professional experience in aquaculture and wild-capture fisheries. This enthusiasm in combination with determined curiosity has led me to undertake a PhD at the University of Otago. The overall objective of this PhD is to genetically characterize the oyster protozoan parasite, Bonamia exitiosa, from New Zealand, and test hypotheses regarding its phylogeographic structure and phylogenetic relationships.
Olwyn Friesen (PhD student)
I received my BSc and MSc from University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. My honour's research examined how zooplankton could be used in the rapid bioassessment of lakes. My master's research focused on the relationships between the diet of canids, including wolves, arctic and red foxes, and their parasite communities. I also considered how other factors, including behaviour, life history, and intraspecific variation (e.g., age and sex), may also influence canid parasite communities. My PhD research will focus on parasite-mediated interspecific interactions in a community of crustaceans. I am particularly interested in examining the impact and strength of parasite mediation on competition and predation.
Zac Tobias (MSc student)
I am originally from southern California, but received my BA in Biology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. In my final year of my bachelor's degree and for three years hence I worked in a neurobiolgy lab studying development and neurodegenerative disease in zebrafish (Danio rerio), using primarily live imaging techniques, molecular biology, and immunohistochemistry. I originally became interested in parasitology reading about examples of host behaviour manipulation by parasites such as Cordyceps fungi and parasitic wasps. My master's thesis will focus on horsehair worms (Nematomorpha) and mermithid nematotdes (Mermithidae), two groups of organisms that are suspected to manipulate host behaviour and share similar characteristics, but which have disparate phylogenetic origins. I will be carrying out a co-phylogeographical study of these two groups and their host organisms on the South Island to investigate the evolutionary history of these relationships.
Jerusha Bennett (MSc student)
Kia Ora, I grew up in Geraldine, NZ, and received my BSc here at the University of Otago. At the moment I am undertaking my MSc in Ecology focusing on parasite transmission in the New Zealand tope shark, Galeorhinus galeus. With this research, I hope to determine transmission routes utilized by trophically transmitted parasites in this system. The more I learn, the more I am intrigued about how parasites fit into different food webs; there is still a great deal to learn from these highly specialized organisms. I look forward to playing my part in increasing the scientific knowledge about G. galeus and its trophically transmitted parasites.
Ryan Herbison (MSc student)
Hello! I was born in England but I've been living in New Zealand now for over 14 years so I consider myself rid of the pom status. I originally started out majoring in Neuroscience but decided to switch and focus on animals. I have just finished my Zoology BSc. While I left neuroscience behind, I still remain enthralled with how the brain functions. When I learned about the terrifying level of control parasites can have over their host's brain, this relatively under-researched area of science became my sole fascination throughout my zoology degree. Currently my Masters project is focusing on the specific mechanisms behind suicidal hydrophilia induced by parasitic nematode infection. Here's to Robert for giving me this opportunity, and publishing a few top-notch papers in the future!
Olivia McPherson (MSc student)
I grew up in this beautiful city and completed my BSc here at the University of Otago. One of my favourite books as a child was a novel called 'The Cockroach War' in which a young female scientist releases an army of remote-controlled cockroaches to drive away her awful neighbors. Once I learned that some parasites are capable of completely changing their hosts' behaviour, I was hooked! My MSc project focuses on the defense strategies the amphipod Paracalliope fluviatilis displays against the trematode parasite Coitocaecum parvum. Specifically, my research will examine whether the defenses of the amphipods (second intermediate host for C. parvum) can be primed by the early detection of uninfected or infected snails (the first intermediate host), in other words whether amphipods have a defensive response to the increased threat of infection.
Eleanor Hay (Honours student)
I grew up in Dunedin and have always had a passion for science and wanted to study here at the University of Otago. I have just completed my undergraduate degree majoring in Zoology and minoring in Chemistry and am now doing Honours. For my project, I will be comparing the phylogeographic patterns in two common shore crabs, the hairy-handed crab Hemigrapsus crenulatus and the stalk-eyed mud crab Macrophthalmus hirtipes, with those of their shared acanthocephalan parasite Profilicollis novaezelandensis. I'm really excited to have this opportunity to do my own project, I can't wait to see what I find and where this will lead me!
Bronwen Presswell (Research Technician & Lab Manager)
I am from the UK where I gained my BSc in Zoology at Aberystwyth, and a Masters in Advanced Methods in Taxonomy and Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum, London. For my PhD at Glasgow University and the NHM, London, I studied the morphological and molecular systematics of Indian caecilians at the intraspecific level. Caecilians are the third largest amphibian group, but they are little studied, and mine was the first project to look at morphological and molecular variation between populations. I am currently investigating the identities and life cycles of cestodes, trematode metacercariae and acanthocephalans that are found in, and on, native NZ freshwater fishes and aquatic birds. Apart from a few well-studied species, little has been published about the biodiversity of parasites on native fishes. Using molecular, histological, scanning electron microscope and other methods I hope to fill a few gaps in our knowledge of this parasite fauna.