Lab Updates

April 23, 2023 – All four research students in the lab including (from left to right) Matt Heilbronn (senior undergraduate), Sam Cranston (senior undergraduate), Lauren Berkley (MS student), and Ericka Griggs (PhD student) presented their research at the New England Natural History Conference in Burlington, Vermont. Everyone garnered interest in their work and Lauren won a student poster award!

April 19th, 2023- Matt Heilbronn and Sam Cranston share their senior research projects with the UVM community at the UVM Student Research Conference.

March 16&17, 2023 – Ericka Griggs (PhD student) and Ellen Martinsen attended the 33rd annual regional loon meeting (NELSWG) in person (!!) and present on their recent research into malaria in Common Loons as well as the malaria parasites and other Apicomplexan parasites of Common Loons in the Northeast. Collaborators from near and far attended the conference.

Fall 2022 – Lauren Berkley (MS student) has been busy collecting blood and tissue samples from white-tailed deer from across New England both through wide collaboration with state biologists and researchers as well as through her own hunter check station visits. Through a tremendous amount of work and organization, Lauren now has hundreds of deer samples from across the northeastern US to screen in the lab for tick-borne and mosquito-borne pathogens.

November 30, 2022 – Ellen presented collaborative work from the Common Loon malaria parasite and disease projects at the annual Atlantic Marine Bird Cooperative (AMBC) conference. Over 250 folks from Canada, the US, and countries in Europe attended the conference.

November 9, 2022 – Adult deer ticks are out in abundance. Our crew managed to collect 50 adult deer ticks in 50 minutes at 50 degrees Fahrenheit at UVM’s Centennial Woods Natural Area! We will keep everyone posted on the pathogens found in the ticks from this heavily used campus forest.

October 20, 2022 – PhD student Ericka Griggs receives a research grant from the American Eagle Foundation to investigate possible links between lead and mercury exposure and parasite infection risk of Bald Eagles across North America. For this project Ericka will be collaborating with scientists from the USGS and the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) to screen samples from hundreds of Bald Eagles. This will be the first in depth examination of the vector-borne parasites of the Bald Eagle.

September 22, 2022 – Ph.D. student Ericka Griggs receives a 2022 Blake-Nuttall Fund Award from the Nuttall Ornithological Club. This funding will enable Ericka to investigate possible relationships between mercury exposure and infectious disease risk in Common Loons, a species exposed to high levels of mercury in the environment as they are at the top of the food chain as piscivores (fish eaters) on freshwater lakes and ponds. As such, loons make ideal sentinel species for studying relationships between heavy metal exposure and risk of infection with novel pathogens.

September 13, 2022 – Undergraduate Matt Heilbronn’s research on pathogen spillover into and out of the introduced and invasive bird species the House Sparrow makes the press again. Shelburne Farms featured Matt’s project as the dairy barn at Shelburne Farms is one of Matt’s field sites.

September 12, 2022 – Melissa Hawkins, Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History, visits the lab and also presents a seminar for the Department of Biology. Melissa shared her work that focuses on the union of genomics, field work, and use of museum specimens to better understand biogeography and phylogeography of Borneo squirrels and Madagascar lemurs.

September 6, 2022 – Ellen presented her talk entitled, “Malaria Parasite Spillover at a North American Zoological Park,” at the fifth International Conference on Malaria and Related Haemosporidian Parasites of Wildlife Conference in Bielefeld, Germany.

September 1st, 2022 – We are excited to welcome PhD student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow Ericka Griggs to the lab. Ericka’s research involves the study of a diversity of vector-borne pathogens in northerly distributed avian species. Through broad collaboration, she is investigating possible relationships between exposure to environmental contaminants, co-infections with multiple parasites, and infectious disease risk in northerly distributed bird species as well as species of conservation concern.

August 16, 2022 – Senior undergraduate student Matt Heilbronn makes the COVER of the UVM website which now features his research on spillover of pathogens into and out of House Sparrows at barns in Vermont. Here Matt is shown taking a House Sparrow out of a mist net at UVM’s own dairy barn.

August 15th, 2022 – Karli Fletcher, visiting scientist and Tufts veterinary student, guided us all through the necropsy of Common Loons found dead on lakes and ponds in Vermont this summer. The majority of deaths were attributed to ingestion of or entanglement in fishing tackle. This necropsy session was organized through the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ work on Common Loons in Vermont.

July 20, 2022. The whole lab attended the 6th annual Vermont Disease Ecology Conference. Graduate student Lauren Berkley and undergraduate Matt Heilbronn each presented a talk on their research projects.

June, 2022 – Tick collection is happening! We are finding many hotspots of various tick species in Vermont and collecting them to screen them in the lab for a handful of tick-borne pathogens. Undergraduate Sam Cranston is heading up these efforts. Stay tuned for more updates.

Update! This project is now FULLY funded! Hooray for public support of science and graduate student Lauren Berkley’s hard work at launching this project campaign. This project received an extra award from the Wildlife Disease Association for having such a large number of backers. Thank you everyone who contributed!

June 1, 2022 – The cervid pathogen project has launched for crowdsourcing as part of the Wildlife Disease Association’s Wildlife Health and Disease Challenge Grants. Learn more about the northerly expanding vector-borne pathogens that threaten deer, moose, and other cervids including those transmitted by the ever expanding and increasing black-legged (deer) tick. More information at:

Field work has begun! Warblers and other migrants are rolling in and our mist nets are rolling out. Mist netting and bird banding have started as has the sampling of Vermont’s wild birds for various vector-borne pathogens. This field work is part of an ongoing and long term study on the pathogens and health of birds.

May 6, 2022 – Undergraduate Sam Cranston was awarded the UVM Kay Summer Research Award AND a UVM Summer Internship to fund him through a summer and senior research project on the pathogens of Vermont ticks. Here Sam is happily collecting deer ticks from the field.

May 6, 2022 – Graduate student Lauren Berkley received the UVM John Wheeler Graduate Student Research and Development Award! These funds will be used to help Lauren study the cryptic pathogens of northeastern cervids including moose and white-tailed deer. Congratulations Lauren on your first research grant!

May 4, 2022 – Undergraduate Matt Heilbronn was awarded the UVM Summer Sustainability Summer Fellowship AND the UVM College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 2022 Dedrick Summer Research Award! These two awards will enable Matt to investigate pathogen spillover into and out of the introduced and invasive House Sparrow this summer and throughout his senior year. Way to go Matt!

May 1, 2022 – Graduate students Lauren Berkley and Alyssa Neuhaus each shared their research with the UVM community and public during UVM’s Thompson Zoological Collection’s Museum Day 2022. Over 220 folks attended the event.

April, 2022 – Our piece on malaria in Common Loons is now in print in Northern Woodlands Magazine.

March 28, 2022 – Alyssa Neuhaus successfully defended her master’s thesis entitled “Diversity and distribution of the malaria parasites (genus Plasmodium) of the Common Loon (Gavia immer) and of Vermont Mosquitoes.” Congratulations Master Alyssa!

March 17, 2022 – Both Alyssa Neuhaus and Ellen Martinsen presented their research at the annual Northeast Loon Study Working Group (NELSWG) meeting on their findings of malaria and malaria parasite dynamics in the Common Loon.

January 18th, 2022 – Lauren Berkley joins the lab as a master’s student with an enthusiasm and interest in One Health that can’t be beat. Lauren begins graduate school with collaborators lined up and on board and hundreds of samples procured for her project on pathogen spillover into and out of cervids of the northeastern US.

November, 2022 – The entire lab participated in a Common Loon necropsy session with collaborators on the loon malaria mortality project including folks from the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences (VINS) and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE). Everyone got their turn to explore the insides of these amazing birds and look for signs of pathogen infection and possible reasons for death. Entanglement in fishing gear was the culprit killer in two of the loons necropsied.

August 4, 2021 – Graduate student Alyssa Neuhaus and Ellen Martinsen present at the Vermont Disease Ecology Meeting at Norwich University. Alyssa presented on the malaria parasites of threatened bird species and Ellen presented on malaria parasite spillover into naive wildlife taxa.

July 11, 2021 – Our Wildlife Disease Association Wildlife Disease Challenge grant was fully funded! Thank you to all who helped fund this project. So much important work is now possible due to contributions from loon lovers near and far. Link to our funding campaign here:

June 23, 2021 – Ellen presents a talk on the emergence of malaria in Common Loons for the Loon Preservation Committee. The talk was recorded and uploaded to the LPC’s Youtube channel and can be accessed at:

August 11, 2021 – Graduate student Alyssa Neuhaus gives her first ever talk at a professional meeting (the joint meeting of the American Ornithological Society and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists) and wins an honorable mention for her talk! Hundreds of students presented at this meeting. Hooray Alyssa!

May 20, 2021 – Collaborative work on the effects of host association and elevation on the blood parasite community of Catharus thrushes (led by Dr. Naima Starkloff) is finally out in print in Ecosphere! Full article access here:

April 22, 2021 – Graduate student Alyssa Neuhaus receives an American Ornithological Society AND a UVM Wheeler graduate research award in support of her research on the malaria parasites of Common Loons!