• 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 () 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 .
• Andrew Flick and others published a meta-analysis on the effects of pathogen-infected prey (i.e., poor quality prey) on predators in (Editor's Choice). Andrew proved that mom was right and you shouldn't just eat junk food.
• Spent a week at the 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 .
• Maybe eating a sick relative isn't so bad after all. Ben Van Allen along with folks from the Elderd lab and at Rice University just published a paper in The looking at how cannibalism can limit the spread of a disease in a population. Cannibalism may even be more effective than selective culling.
Have a listen to Ben's interview on Scientific American's 60-second science or coverage on Louisiana public broadcasting's .
• 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 () to discuss the latest research on population cycles. The discussions arising from that symposium/workship have been recently published in .
• Interesting podcast from NPR's Planet Money on scientific research included in congressional wastebooks. Have a listen to "".
• 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 .
Also have a listen to Matt's interview on Scientific American's 60-second science or read about it in .
• 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 ( and Tad Joshi) and the Elderd lab laid that to rest and showed that no appendix is necessary in the .
• 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 .
• 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: , 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: 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 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 am glad to be a part of.
• Summer Sting: Spent part of the summer up at collecting some data and happened to get stung in the eyelid by a bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata), which is relatively low on the 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 that originally focused on the Spanish flu of 1918 but has updated episodes on COVID-19.
• American Naturalist Focused Topic: Over the past couple of years, I've been working on a focused topic for the journal with two outstanding and brilliant people, and . The topic, "Looking across scales in disease ecology and evolution", features a series of papers from a wide-range and diverse set of authors. All the papers associated with the topic are ready to go and I'm excited for its official puplication. Stay tuned for more updates.
• Lab News: A hearty hoorah and kudos to Scott and Jason as they passed their general exams virtually and during a pandemic. We also want to welcome Nathaniel Haulk to the lab. Nathaniel just joined the lab after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia.
• Updated Lab News: Evolution started a new feature called Evolution Highlights, which "highlights some of the interesting and varied papers published within the last few years". The journal just on the virulence transmission trade-off.
• Planet Money: Planet Money, one of my favorite geek podcasts, ran a this year on investing and they keep touching on ideas near and dear to my brain - the sunken cost fallacy and the portfolio effect. The former is often brought up when folks talk about the supersonic jet, which cost a ton more than originally thought and never truly became a successful form of transport. The moral of the story being that just because one has invested money/time/effort into a project doesn't mean you should see it through to completion if it continues to reap no rewards. It is often better to move on. Could be true for research avenues as well. As for the portfolio effect, it is a simple investment strategy that basically says don't put all your eggs in one basket when investing money. It is often brought up in ecology when talking about . In the end, Planet Money can be a bit cross-disciplinary.
• Things to celebrate: We had a number of things to celebrate in the lab during the past couple of months and I just like to note a few. First, congratulations to Paige Long who defended her Honors Thesis, won a undergraduate research award in Biological Sciences, and graduated from LSU. Paige will be taking a post-grad year and then pursuing her dream to become a doctor. Her infectious presence in the lab will be missed. Second, Mike Garvey will be moving on to a position with the USDA in Phoenix. He will be trading the sub-tropical sultry heat of Louisiana for the dry heat of Arizona. His infectious presence will also be missed. Third, Robbie Richards is also moving on. Robbie will be staying close to his current home and be starting a new teaching post-doc at the University of Georgia. His is infectious as well even though we saw him mostly through a Zoom lens and will be missed. So, even though, I titled this as things to celebrate - it is slightly bittersweet as the lab enters a new era. However, even though these folks will be moving on, I'm sure we will continue to see and collaborate with them (virtually or in real life). All in all, I'm excited to see what comes next for them and the lab.
• Just some things: First, it is always nice to see empirical research confirm theoretical insights especially when it involves cannibalism. The lab just published a paper in showing empirically that cannibalism can decrease disease transmission, which we spent some time theoretically thinking about in a paper we published awhile back in . Second, this fall Kale Costanza, our lab manager, is switching modes from lab manager to graduate student. While Kale will be missed as lab manager, a most excellent one at that, it is great that they are still around but just in a different capacity. Third, although spring has sprung for some time, we know that summer is just around the corner - the harbinger of summer around Baton Rouge is the arrival of the , which are now in the skies above.