My research focuses on the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions, the diseases they cause, and their role in structuring populations.
My approach fuses empirical evidence and theory to better understand how hosts allocate resources to simultaneously defend themselves against parasites and support basic life history needs.
This data-theory integration allows me to gain a better understanding of how individual-level processes scale-up to drive population-level outcomes (e.g., the evolution of parasite virulence) — with implications for basic and applied challenges in biology.
Energetic costs of defense
Hosts can employ numerous mechanisms to defend themselves against pathogens — this arsenal ranges from behavioral changes to cultivating beneficial microbes. Each of these defenses interacts through direct and indirect pathways and carry tradeoffs depending on the genetic, nutritional, and environmental conditions that govern the host's physiology, exposure to pathogens, and susceptibility to disease. These host-pathogen interactions carry substantial ecological and evolutionary consequences because they target different aspects of parasite life history (e.g., growth, transmission). Many medical interventions (e.g., vaccines) mimic different host defense mechanisms (e.g., by blocking transmission to new hosts).
Yet, predicting the net costs, benefits, and fitness consequences of these defenses (or interventions that mimic them) remains poorly resolved and poses key challenges to basic and applied questions in evolutionary biology.
To address this challenge, my work takes an energetic approach - asking how do hosts use nutritional resources when they are infected vs. uninfected or during acute vs. chronic phases of infection? Do these energetic strategies improve aspects of host immune function or parasite growth?
Because host nutrients can simultaneously exert multiple, potentially contrasting, effects on both host and parasite fitness, I use models, parameterized with physiological data, to pinpoint connections between host energetics, multiple defense mechanisms, and pathogen evolution.
Studies in human disease have long recognized the crucial links between resources (i.e., diet) and disease. Evolutionary epidemiology, however, has only recently begun to appreciate these cross-scale connections.