ZIKA vector surveillance in San Antonio
Currently, mosquito research in my lab focuses on vector control and surveillance in San Antonio, Texas. In collaboration with the metropolitan health district my students and I have been tracking the seasonal abundance of the Zika vector Aedes aegypti. We have been evaluating the use of the modified autocidal gravid ovitrap (CDC-AGO) as an easy to use, safe, and inexpensive method of surveillance.These CDC-AGO traps are primarily used as sustained control in Puerto Rico (Barrera et al. 2014) and have been evaulated at a small scale in California. The aim of our efforts was to assess CDC-AGO trap as a surveillance tool in a large metropolitan area, the 7th largest city in the United States (>900km2), using a budget and man power consistent with under-funded city health districts. In addition, we aimed to assess if some areas of the city were more prone to Ae. aegypti infestations than others and to begin to determine the factors that influence those differences.
Mosquito Ecology in San Antonio and Greater Bexar County
We also focus on mosquito species distribution and abundance across different land-use patterns near large urban areas, how they correlate with climate data, and how it affects known disease vectors. San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas with no official mosquito control district as in Dallas and Houston. In addition, because San Antonio is considered a border-land city (physical proximity and its shared ecosystem with Northern Mexico), it is important to understand the population and community ecology of species such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus which vector diseases that are endemic to Northern Mexico, such as Dengue, Chikungunya and now with the epidemic of the Zika virus, it become even more important. San Antonio is also one of the fastest growing areas in the nation and the urban sprawl into rural areas provides an ideal system to study the relationship of changing land-use and mosquito ecology. San Antonio also provides a unique ecological system out of the large cities in Texas due to the fact that it is located in an area where four different ecosystems converge. I currently collaborate with the Texas State Department of Health Services Arbovirus/Entomology, Texas A&M - Agrilife Extention IPM group, and Bexar County Public Works.
Intestinal Helminths of Feral Hogs Across Texas
Feral hogs are known widely throughout Texas as an overall pest to land management and lifestock enterprises in general and close to half of the Nation's feral hog popuplations reside in Texas. Texas A&M-San Antonio's campus is largely rural and we consistently have multiple families of feral hogs roaming our undeveloped areas. As we collect them, my students and I will be conducting ecto and endo-parasitological surveys of each hog. Our most recent research involved a general survey of over 65 hogs from across Texas for intestinal helminths - our source was a USDA processing facility that recieved hogs from all over the state.
Parasite-Induced Behavioral Modification in Insect Hosts
I am interested in parasite-induced behavioral alterations in parasite-host systems in which the parasite requires the host for development to a free-living form. The majority of studies on parasite-induced behavioral alterations focus on the parasite stage that is trophically transmitted and it is predicted that if the behavioral alterations associated with infection are adaptive to the parasite, they should increase the chance that the parasite will reach the next host in their life cycle. Parasite-host relationships in which the parasitic stage relies on the host for its own development and delivery to proper habitat for emergence to a free-living stage offers a different set of hypotheses on adaptive manipulation of host behaviors. These parasites, often considered parasitoids, should alter behaviors of hosts in ways that a) bring the parasite to the appropriate habitat for emergence, b) decrease the host’s risk of predation, thereby increasing the parasite’s chance of survival, or c) conserve energy, thus maintaining sufficient resources for parasite development within the host. My students and I recently partnered with Dr. Ben Hanelt on a study where we investigated whether calling behavior of adult male Acheta domesticus crickets infected with Paragordius varius (Nematomorpha: Gordiidae) was modified. Our results will be published in the Journal of Parasitology in summer 2015.