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 Fátima Jorge (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
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 visiting student during my PhD. Back in the group, I have just completed a project aimed 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. My current project is to test the possible role of parasite microbiomes in the phenotypic variation among trematode parasites, to determine whether the bacteria harboured by a parasite shape its biology and interaction with the host.
Dr Eddy Dowle (Postdoctoral Research Fellow)
Originally from Otago, I completed my PhD at Massey University (New Zealand) in 2014. Following my PhD, I took up a short-term position at the Cawthron Institute in Nelson before moving to the USA to work at the University of Colorado. My previous work has focused on using genomic techniques to explore genetic diversity and environmental adaptation in several invertebrate species. But I have broad research interests in evolution, genomics and development. My current work at Otago (in collaboration with Prof. Neil Gemmell, Anatomy Dept.) focuses on using genomic techniques (transcriptomics and bi-sulphite sequencing) to understand how nematomorph and nematode parasites manipulate their normally terrestrial arthropod hosts to seek water. Visit my website.
Dovilė Murauskaitė (PhD student)
I come from Lithuania, a small country in Northern Europe. There, I did a BSc in Molecular Biology and a MSc in Genetics at Vilnius University. During my studies, I got very interested in malaria and conducted all of my research at the Laboratory of Parasitology on avian malaria parasites. A main focus of my Masters thesis was to find methods to detect and identify multiple infections of haemosporidian parasites in birds (I got to use some cool methods such as single cell microdissection). After my studies I went to do an internship at Lund University, in Sweden, where I continued to work on the same subject with a focus on genetics and genomics. For my PhD, I am switching to parasites of sheep and will work on genetic diversity of multi-drug resistant Teladorsagia circumcincta; this is through a joint project with AgResearch (NZ) and Teagasc (Ireland) funded through a Walsh Fellowship. The end goal of this study is hopefully to make sheep fluffier.
Brandon Ruehle (PhD student)
I am from Texas, USA, where I completed my BSc in biology at Texas A&M University in 2013. By the Spring of 2014 I was attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville, TX (the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Capital of the World") working on my MSc in biology. It is at this point that I often tell the curious few that I did not choose parasitology, it chose me. What began as an interest in fish ecology quickly grew into a project on how parasites interact with their fish hosts in the ecosystem. Now I have the pleasure of joining the Evolutionary and Ecological Parasitology lab group at the University of Otago. My PhD research will likely focus on the eye fluke Tylodelphys sp. and how it affects the mating ability of the common bully Gobiomorphus cotidianus.
Eunji Park (PhD student)
I am from South Korea, where I completed my B.Sc. and M.Sc. at Ewha Womans University. As part of my undergraduate studies and for my master's thesis, I have participated in several research projects including phylogenetic studies on cnidarians and population genetic studies on deep-sea mussels. During the last few years, my research interests have expanded to the patterns of biodiversity in various habitats (marine, freshwater, and terrestrial) and anthropogenic influence on biodiversity. Meanwhile, the abundance and diversity of parasites in the animal tree of life has fascinated me and led me to join the parasitology field. Here at the University of Otago, my PhD studies will focus on microsporidians, obligate intracellular parasites, which infect a wide range of host taxa. I aim at understanding their diversity in both wild and farmed populations of various hosts in New Zealand, their influence on host fitness, and ultimately understanding their evolutionary history and ecological roles.
Jean-François Doherty (PhD student)
I hail from the land of the Great Moose, also known as Canada. Born and reared in Ontario, I moved to Québec to return to my French Canadian roots, where I completed my BSc and MSc in biology at Université Laval. An entomologist at heart, I studied the effects of temperature on the development of arthropod pests found in Christmas tree plantations and developed models predicting their springtime eclosion. During this period, I happily discovered the fascinating subject of behavioural manipulation by parasites whilst writing a graduate course paper. Therefore, I intend to pursue my doctoral studies in this area by experimentally infecting native cave weta (large nocturnal wingless orthopterans) with nematomorphs (horsehair worms) and conducting behavioural assays as infection progresses. In doing so, I hope to better understand how these parasitised cave weta end up "committing suicide" by jumping into water during their nightly escapades.
Antoine Filion (PhD student)
Coming from the infamous poutine world of Quebec (Canada), I graduated as a bioecology technician in Montreal where I first had the chance to take a glance at the parasite world by doing an internship on parasite abundance in Corsica streams (University of Corsica, France). Afterwards, I decided to continue my parasite studies further at the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières (UQTR), where I did my BSc and MSc on biotic and abiotic variables driving the abundance and prevalence of two genera of trematodes, Apophallus and Crepidostomum, in an economically important fish, brook charr (Salvelinus fontinalis). At this point, I became really captivated about the multiple interactions in the environment that were influencing pathways of parasite transmission! Therefore, I intend to pursue my research in this area by studying the outbreak synchrony of the main parasites that cause malaria, Plasmodium spp., in their two main hosts, mosquitoes and birds, by using non-invasive sampling methods (e.g. thermal cameras). By doing so, I aim to provide new knowledge to be used for conservation purposes, as well as a better understanding of parasite transmission dynamics and inter-species synchrony patterns in natural systems.
Jerusha Bennett (PhD student)
Kia Ora, I grew up in Geraldine, NZ, and received my BSc here at the University of Otago. I then completed a MSc in Ecology, again at Otago, focusing on cestode parasites of the New Zealand rough skate, Zearaja nasuta, and determining their trophic transmission routes. Following this, along with Bronwen Presswell, I investigated the biodiversity of parasites in birds and fishes of New Zealand. This work involved taxonomy and new species descriptions, and the use of genetic markers to resolve life cycles. This research was (and still is) conducted in partnership with Otago Museum, and serves to assemble what will become New Zealand's largest parasite collection. At present, I am doing a PhD that expands on this past work: I aim to map parasite transmission patterns on the entire food web of the Otago coastal ecosystem, using genetic tools to match larval and adult helminth stages across all major food chains. This work will not only resolve the partially known life cycles of some parasites, but no doubt also identify many new species.
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!
Jocelyn Lindner (MSc student)
Growing up, my dad was a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force, so I have lived many places. Respect for the land and its people has been instilled in me since childhood. However, I have taken a more specific interest in island ecology. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where I graduated in Natural Resource and Environmental Management, specializing in Wildlife Management. Part way through, I studied Rainforest Management abroad with the School for Field Studies to the North Island of New Zealand and Queensland, Australia. I was also an intern for the Hawaiian Institute for Marine Biology shark lab, the Marine Mammal Research Program and a volunteer at the Honolulu Zoo elephant section. I then returned to New Zealand and graduated with a Postgrad Diploma in Wildlife Management from Otago University. Now, I am pursuing my MSc in Zoology. My thesis aims to determine the diversity and abundance of parasites in Eulemur macaco, the black lemur. This entails collecting fecal samples from three locations in Madagascar, and using microscopy and sequencing to compare parasites between individuals, groups, and environments. I hope to expand this project into a PhD. I am very proud to be a part of the Evolutionary and Ecological Parasitology research group, and very lucky to be co-supervised by Sarah Zohdy, Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences from Auburn University, USA.
Bronwen Presswell (Research Technician & Lab Manager)
I am from the UK where I gained a Masters in Advanced Methods in Taxonomy and Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum, London. For my PhD at Glasgow University and the NHM, I studied the morphological and molecular systematics of Indian caecilians at the intraspecific level. I currently investigate the identities and life cycles of parasitic helminths that are found in, and on, New Zealand wildlife, from invertebrates to fishes, elasmobranchs and birds. The parasitic worms of NZ wildlife have not been well studied, and I continue to find and describe new species all the time, and complete life cycles for species known only as larvae. A collaboration with the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital has allowed me access to their deceased birds, which have yielded hundreds of parasite specimens, forming probably the largest parasite collection in New Zealand, which has been submitted to the Otago Museum. Using molecular, histological, scanning electron microscope and other methods I hope to fill a few gaps in our knowledge of this parasite fauna.