Welcome to the Wildlife Pathogens Lab
Home of the research group of Ellen Martinsen
Some of what we study….
Discovery of pathogen species and genera from wild vertebrate and invertebrate vector hosts across the globe. Everywhere and in every species we look we find something new.
Understanding pathogen diversity
Through the use of traditional light microscopy and genetic data, we reconstruct the relationships between wildlife pathogens (how closely related they are to each other) as well as track their evolutionary history and diversification over time including the importance of host switches into new vertebrate and invertebrate vector hosts.
Many vector-borne pathogens readily host switch and spillover into naive host taxa including collection animals at zoological parks, non-native species, species of conservation concern, and northerly distributed wildlife taxa. Disease and death often occur after pathogens spill into novel hosts. Here we investigate pathogen spillover into new host populations and species and the factors involved.
Common Loon Malaria
Yes, Common Loons get malaria and recently have been found to die from malaria. Common Loons are an ideal study species to study malaria as they are icons of the northern wilderness, historically have not been found to be infected with malaria parasites, and are oftentimes found when deceased. Through broad collaboration with loon biologists and wildlife veterinarians across the US, we have documented a diversity of malaria parasites from the species. We have also discovered disease and death associated with malaria parasite infection in Common Loons in the Northeast.
Cervids (deer, moose, and caribou for example) are chock full of vector-borne pathogens that are moving north and expanding their geographic range due to climate and landscape change. We rediscovered the malaria parasites of white-tailed deer and continue to study these parasites as well as other life threatening vector-borne pathogens of deer and other cervid species in the northeastern United States.
Time for ticks
Tick species continue to march northward due to climate change and landscape modification and present novel agents of infectious disease to more northerly distributed wildlife species (and humans). We are investigating the dangerous pathogens that invasive tick species are infected with as well as habitat factors that may impact infection risk. Shown here is a picture of a tick’s tongue at high magnification.
Contaminants and pathogens
As human activities put off a diversity of pollutants, what is the role of these environmental contaminants in rendering hosts more susceptible to infectious disease? Here we investigate the relationship between pollutants and infectious disease risk in species of birds subjected to high levels of mercury and lead including Saltmarsh Sparrows, Common Loons, and Bald Eagles.