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.
Dr Amandine Sabadel (Research Fellow)
Hi everyone, my name is Amandine, and I am originally from France, where I completed a BSc in chemistry and a MSc in nuclear chemistry at the Université Montpellier II. I then moved to Vancouver, Canada, and worked at the NRC/CNRC on the development of proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. After a year there, I relocated to the other side of the world to complete a PhD in marine isotope biogeochemistry from the University of Otago, Dunedin, in 2015. Fast-forward a few years of postdoctoral experience, I am now a Research Fellow at the University of Otago and an isotope consultant at the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA), Wellington. It is hard to fit my research interests into one category as I work across a lot of different fields of research, but overall, I consider myself an isotope bio-geo-eco-chemist! I am joining the Parasite Lab as I was awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant to investigate the trophic interactions between a parasite and its host(s), using compound-specific stable isotope analyses.
Dr Leighton Thomas (Assistant Research Fellow)
Kia Ora, I am from the UK, where I gained a Masters in Advanced Methods of Taxonomy and Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum and Imperial College in London. There I researched the molecular systematics of Malagasy termites. I then came over to New Zealand to study for a PhD on the population genetics of the Bluff oyster (Ostrea chilensis) at the University of Victoria in Wellington. During my time with the University of Otago, I have worked on the population genetics of sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) and developed eDNA resources to identify seaweeds. Currently I am developing eDNA methodology to detect parasites living in lakes. In my spare time I enjoy hiking and surfing.
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.
Daniela de Angeli Dutra (PhD student)
Hello, I'm a biologist from Brazil (and no, I do not know how to dance samba). I obtained a Masters degree in Ecology from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Throughout my studies, I conducted laboratory research in the Parasitology department at the Institute of Biological Sciences. During this period, I dedicated myself to the study of hemoparasites of the order Haemosporida infecting wild animals, investigating the interaction between hosts, parasites and the environment in which they live. These studies allowed me to acquire knowledge about the various ecological interactions between parasites and their vertebrate and invertebrate hosts, providing me with an interdisciplinary perspective between ecology, evolution and parasitology. Now, for my doctorate, I intend to evaluate the importance of bird migration for the transmission of avian haemosporidians, and for their local diversity and prevalence.
Xuhong Chai [Rose] (MSc student)
I am originally from China. I came to New Zealand for a working holiday in 2012 and in the end managed to live here. I worked for several years in a factory and then realised I really wanted a job where I could use my brain instead of just fast hands. Being a Zoologist was always my childhood dream, so I decided to go to study at the University of Otago in 2017. Fascinated by how parasites can manipulate host behaviour, I contacted Robert to volunteer in his lab to learn more about the topic. I have been volunteering in Robert's lab since 2018 and developed an interest in the ecology and evolution of parasites. I have just completed my Bachelor of Science degree with a Zoology major and Ecology minor in 2019. Now I'm starting my Master of Science degree focusing on deep-sea parasites. I hope to investigate the parasite communities of different species of rattail fish and also the co-evolutionary history of different species of trematodes with their rattail hosts.
Dr 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.