Patterns of parasitism in snakes

Most parasite species have yet to be described by science, and that may be especially true for parasites that use snakes as hosts. Snakes are secretive and difficult to sample, so they are rarely the focus of parasite and disease ecology research, and thus we know relatively little about their parasite communities and their health. Our lab dissects roadkilled snakes to better understand which helminth, pentastome, and arachnid parasites call snakes home. We also survey live wild snakes for the fungal pathogen that causes ophidiomycosis to better understand how environmental change influences snake health. 

Causes and consequences of cave microclimate variation

Relative to the surface world, caves have relatively stable year-round temperatures. However, cave temperatures and humidity still vary within caves and also between caves in a given region. In collaboration with researchers at other universities and cave managers from federal and state agencies and NGOs, we are working to describe variation in cave microclimates; determine which factors most influence cave microclimates (e.g., latitude, forest cover); and quantify how microclimates affect subterranean species’ distributions and fitness. For example, we know that infected bats that roost in warmer microclimates are more likely to experience negative consequences from white nose syndrome (Hopkins et al. 2021).

Win-win solutions for conservation and human infectious disease control

Some conservation interventions may increase ecosystem function and reduce human infectious disease burdens–a win–win for ecosystems and people. Similarly, some health interventions may control human infectious diseases and increase ecosystem function. We’re working to understand what kinds of conservation and health interventions are “win–win solutions” and how they work. For example, we partner with two NGOs in Indonesian Borneo that provide healthcare access and sustainable livelihood training to people living near protected forests to determine how these interventions reduce illegal deforestation in protected areas. Much of this work is highly collaborative and was originally funded by the Ecological Levers for Health Working Group. 

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