Like any species, a wide range of factors influence the distribution of pathogens and the infectious diseases for which they are responsible: when, where, and how do they occur among host populations? Abiotic conditions, competitors, host immunity, vectors of transmission. Understanding how these types of factors contribute to disease distribution in natural populations can help inform what information is critical for predicting epidemics of diseases that threaten public health, wildlife, or industry, deciding on control measures, and determining how effective they may be. This is the main theme through which the working threads of my research are woven.
Considering the fact that almost all life on earth is either parasitic or affected by at least one parasite, “infectious disease biology” encompasses a very broad range of studies and applications. I am particularly interested in the way that host populations are affected evolutionarily by their interactions with pathogens, and how that feeds back into the epidemiological dynamics. I am interested in how pathogens interact with one-another within a host, and how that affects the disease community at the population level. This describes the current focus of my work in Montpellier.
My thesis work focused on the biotic and abiotic factors influencing disease expression and pathogen distribution in the natural host/(multi)-pathogen system of fungal anther-smut disease in alpine populations of the wildflower, Silene vulgaris. Combining field and laboratory studies, this system provides a great model for testing theories in ecological and evolutionary disease dynamics, particularly for sterilizing and sexually-transmitted infections. This research has implications for the evolution of host resistance, pathogen virulence strategies, transmission dynamics, and disease emergence – several topics which I have continued exploring as a postdoc.