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 (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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Eleanor Hay (Assistant Research Fellow)
I grew up in Dunedin and have always had a passion for science and wanted to study here at the University of Otago. After completing my undergraduate degree majoring in Zoology and minoring in Chemistry, I got my Honours degree. For my project, I compared 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. Now, I am working on a project investigating the diversification rates in parasite lineages, to test whether host switching is followed by higher rates of molecular evolution and speciation.
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.