WHAT WE DO
Our research strives to understand the drivers and consequences of variation within species, with a focus on animal movement. We mostly use fishes to explore differences among individual morphology, respiratory physiology, locomotor performance and movement-related behaviours in the context of parasitism and changing abiotic environments. We collaborate with researchers around the globe on a range of marine and freshwater systems including coral reef fishes (damsels, surgeons, grunts, breams), tropical and temperate wrasses, freshwater sunfishes (Lepomis sp.), cichlids, flounder and surfperch to name a few. Check out the project sections below for more information.
Parasites and host locomotion
Movement is critical to almost every aspect of an animal’s ecology: success in activities such as predator avoidance, foraging, mate choice and territory defense largely depends on strategic decisions about where and when to move (i.e. movement behavior) and locomotor performance capacity (i.e. ability to execute a movement behavior). Both may be affected by parasite infection. Although parasites are ubiquitous, their role in influencing host movement and locomotor performance is largely overlooked. We are interested in how parasites or the risk of parasite infection affects host movement behaviors both pre-infection (prophylactic behavior) and post-infection (therapeutic behavior). We also study the impact of both ecto- and endo- parasites on host aerobic swimming and fast-start escape performance across different host and parasite life stages.
Parasites as drivers of animal migration
Migration is a widespread animal behaviour. Yet, why so many species risk the perils and uncertainties of migration is an evolutionary puzzle, and many theories exist to help understand how this seemingly costly behaviour evolved. While food, climate and reproduction are well-studied drivers of animal migration, the role played by parasites has only recently been appreciated. Myself and collaborators from the University of Minnesota are studying the interactions between parasites and host migration. By combining knowledge from animal movement and infectious disease ecology, we are developing mathematical models that explore the role of parasites as a selective pressure on host migratory behaviour. We are also developing empirical systems on which we can test some of the predictions arising from these models.
Effects of parasites on host cognition and behaviour
Although fish suffer from the stereotype of having a two second memory, some species are capable of a remarkable array of cognitive abilities. This makes sense: aquatic systems are diverse, complex habitats, and individuals need to be able to discriminate between predators, prey and potential mates as well as make appropriate behavioural decisions about how and when to act depending on the context. Our group explores the extent to which parasites affect the decision-making abilities and behaviour of their fish hosts. We use experimental infection, manipulative field studies and immune-stimulation to address these questions in freshwater and marine fishes. We also use meta-analyses to address the broader question of whether parasites affect host cognition across a range of taxa.
Responses of fishes to global change
How are widespread species able to thrive across a range of environments? Does this broad distribution make them more resilient to environmental change? The answers to these questions are imperative for natural resource managers worldwide. Our group uses a variety of marine and freshwater systems to study physiological (metabolic rates, swimming performance), morphological (fin shape, gill size) and behavioural (foraging patterns, predator evasion) variation within species across environmental gradients (water flow, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen) with the goal of trying to understand what traits are important for survival in a given habitat or for a particular lifestyle. By exploring phenotypic divergence in fishes across a range of environments, we can better understand the mechanisms promoting trait variation, and the likely response of organisms to changes in their abiotic environment driven by climate change.
Mechanisms promoting stability in marine cleaning mutualisms
© Simon Gingins
Mutualisms play an integral role in maintaining the diversity and stability of ecosystems. Coral reefs are no exception: these structurally and socially complex habitats host a startling diversity of species, many of which engage in an intricate array of mutualistic symbioses and cooperative interactions. For example, cleaning organisms, which include a variety of fish and crustacean species, remove ectoparasites from the surfaces of so-called clients. These positive interactions are likely maintained through trade-offs among potential costs, benefits and risks associated with cooperating and a variety of partner control strategies by all participants. Knowledge of the benefits derived by participants and traits related to partner control are therefore critical to understand the evolution and maintenance of mutualisms and consequently coral reef community structure and stability. We’re trying to understand what drives variation in the service quality provided by cleaners, how clients contribute to the maintenance of cooperation via partner control and what short-term fitness benefits clients gain from being cleaned. We combine behavioural observations, field manipulations and laboratory experiments to answer these questions using the bluestreaked cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus and its clients in Egypt and Australia.
Open science, public data archiving and research integrity
illustration credit : Ainsley Seago
Good science relies on transparent, reproducible results that can be independently verified and validated. Most of our research also happens to be funded through public money. For these reasons, journals and funding bodies are increasingly embracing open science practices, including public data archiving (PDA). While the benefits of open science and PDA for the scientific community as a whole are obvious, many researchers in the fields of ecology and evolution (E&E) remain wary of the open science movement due to a range of real and perceived costs. Our group is interested in understanding the current structural and personal barriers preventing a more willing and widespread adoption of transparent research practices and open science (PDA in particular) among researchers in E&E. We study the effectiveness of editorial policies at mandating PDA, the quality of archived datasets in prominent E&E journals, and the attitudes of researchers towards policies aimed at increasing transparency in data collection and analysis. Our aim is to facilitate a dialogue between funders, journals and scientists around initiatives promoting transparency and reproducibility in research with the goal of normalizing open science practices in E&E.