We are currently interested in four broad areas of research:
1. Ecoimmunology/Comparative Psychoneuroimmunology
2. Parasitic Manipulation of Behaviour
3. Climate Change and Insects
4. Cephalopod Neurobiology and Behaviour
Ecoimmunology / Comparative Psychneuroimmunology
How and why does activating the immune system alter behaviour? And why does the performance of some behaviours alter the ability to resist disease?
We examine these questions in a series of related studies:
1. Why does disease resistance fluctuate depending on the ecological context? We examine interactions between the immune system and other physiological systems to help explain shifts in immune function. These studies use a network analysis approach coupled with molecular, biochemical and behavioural techniques. Currently we are determining how and why predator stress alters immune function.
2. Illness-induced anorexia is produced by compounds released by the immune system, not by the pathogen. The behaviour is found in virtually all animals, but its function remains poorly understood. We use behavioural, biochemical and molecular methods to study the effects of decreased feeding on immune function in crickets and caterpillars. We hypothesize that illness-induced anorexia reduces physiological conflicts between digestion and immune function, resulting in enhanced disease resistance.
3. Stress-induced immunosuppression exists in both insects and vertebrates. We use molecular, physiological and behavioural techniques to study the effects of the stress neurohormone octopamine on insect immune function. We test how these effects differ depending on the physiological context (e.g. presence of a pathogen or predator). We hypothesize that stress hormones reconfigure the immune system. This reconfiguration helps maintain immune function even as resources are being shifted away from the immune system and redirected towards physiological systems needed for flight-or-fight behaviour.
Parasitic Manipulation of Behaviour
How do some parasites manipulate the behaviour of their hosts?
We use behavioural, biochemical, molecular and electrophysiological methods to study how the parasitic wasp Cotesia congregata suppresses feeding in its host, the caterpillar Manduca sexta.
Parasites typically use multiple mechanisms to control host behaviour. They also tend to exploit existing host mechanisms (e.g. hijacking immune/neural connections of the host). Studying how parasites influence host behaviour will help us integrate genomic, proteomic and neurophysiological perspectives on behaviour.
Viral Aphrodisiac in Crickets
See Dylan Miller's video on this research question.