• The lab spent a busy summer doing research and presenting at a number of meetings including the Evolution meeting, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease (EEID) meeting, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) meeting.
• Ben moved from LSU to start a new position at the University of California, San Diego working with Ryan Hechinger and Johnathan Shurin. He traded the sun of Baton Rouge for more sun and, more importantly, for surf.
• Interested in combining ideas at the interface of human and ecological systems. The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) may be what you are looking for. They have interesting courses and opportunities for graduate student on up.
• Have the need to combine Bayes and Integral Projection Models? See Elderd and Miller, which was just published in Ecologial Monographs.
• Andrew Flick and others published a meta-analysis on the effects of pathogen-infected prey (i.e., poor quality prey) on predators in Oikos (Editor's Choice). Andrew proved that mom was right and you shouldn't just eat junk food.
• Spent a week at the University of Puerto Rico as an instructor in their Topicos in Biologia course. On top of that, I got to spend some time with Miquel Acevedo and David Clark catching lizards in El Yunque National Forest and playing in a bioluminescenct bay.
• Interesting editorial/blog post on science funding in Robert Krulwich's National Geographic blog.
• Maybe eating a sick relative isn't so bad after all. Ben Van Allen along with folks from the Elderd lab and Volker Rudolf at Rice University just published a paper in The American Naturalist looking at how cannibalism can limit the spread of a disease in a population. Cannibalism may even be more effective than selective culling.
• Population cycles are ubiquitous in nature and are of considerable interest to ecologists. A group of ecologists and mathematicians got together at the Banff International Research Stations (BIRS) to discuss the latest research on population cycles. The discussions arising from that symposium/workship have been recently published in Ecology Letters.
• Interesting podcast from NPR's Planet Money on scientific research included in congressional wastebooks. Have a listen to "Shrimp Fight Club".
• Ecological Traps: Matt Faldyn has been looking into how climate change will affect monarch butterflies by changing the quality of their food resources, milkweeds. He found that an invasive milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is commonly sold at gardening stores, represents a potential ecological trap. That is, under current temperatures, monarchs fair much better on the invasive plant compared to a native species (A. incarnata) but under forecasted warmer temperatures monarch larvae fair poorly. Thus, to quote Admiral Ackbar -- "It's a trap" if the monarchs use past environmental cues to infer future success. Read about it in Ecology.
• Gut alternative stable states (G.A.S.S.) and the appendix: A lot of work is being done on the microbiome. One such problem occurs within the gut of human beings when a particular nasty set of bacteria take over - Clostridium difficile. It has been hypothesized that the appendix may be a refuge for our good gut bacteria and thus may help shift the gut from an alternative stable state of bad bacteria dominance to a state where healthy bacteria dominate. Colleagues at Case Western (Karen Abbott and Tad Joshi) and the Elderd lab laid that to rest and showed that no appendix is necessary in the Journal of Theortical Biology.
• Matt Garvey joined the lab. Fresh from finishing his Ph.D. at Purdue. We will try and indoctrinate him into the ways of crawfish boils and baculoviruses.
Lab News and Notes
• Spatial dynamics of host-pathogen coevolution in a changing environment: While the heading is a mouthful, it is the title to a newly funded grant. The lab got the good news in the Spring from the joint NSF-NIH-USDA Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease program that the USDA will be funding the research. Needless to say, we are excited to start up the new project.
• Evolution of Virulence: The lab just published a meta-analysis examining the virulence-transmission tradeoff. Proposed more than 30 years ago, the tradeoff hypotheses that disease transmission should be at its maximum at intermediate levels of virulence. We decided to see if the data supports this fundamental hypothesis is disease evolution. To find out whether it does or not, you need to read about it in the Evolution.
• Scott Grimmell and Jason Janeaux joined the lab in the Fall & have advanced to A.B.D. in the spring. Busy and fruitful year for them (at least that is what they told me).
• COVID-19 Epidemics: Tad Dallas, an assistant professor at LSU, and I have been thinking a lot about epidemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic. We were recently funded via the NSF RAPID program to look at epidemic control strategies for COVID-19. We are excited to add to the research and modeling efforts focused on this devastating disease.
• Plant Population Network or PlantPopNet: PlantPopNet is an international effort to examine the long-term demographics of a widely distributed plant, Plantago lanceolata. This year saw the publication of a really interesting paper (if I do say so myself) in PNAS on how global gene flow helps invasive species get a foothold in new areas. Definitely more interesting things to come from a group that I glad to be a part of.
• Summer Sting: Spent part of the summer up at RMBL collecting some data and happened to get stung in the eyelid by a bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata), which is relatively low on the Schmidt pain scale (but pretty high on my own). It led to some very interesting golem like facial or lack of facial expressions in the following days. Ah, the hazards of field work.
• A Pandemic Podcast: Really interesting podcast series out there called Going Viral that originally focused on the Spanish flu of 1918 but has updated episodes on COVID-19.