ESA 2016 Parasite Ecology

ESA 2016 was rather small (and hot), but that didn’t stop a lot of excellent parasite ecology talks from happening! I was consistently impressed with the caliber of the talks: very thorough studies, huge datasets, and so much pretty math!

So uh, you might remember how I was supposed to run an unofficial ESA 2016 Parasite Cartoon Contest. Well, I did, but then I left my notes in the hotel, and I can’t remember all of the cartoons without them. Oops! But based on what I do remember, here are my chosen winners:

Honorable Mention:

One morning, I dragged myself out of bed in time to see an 8:00am talk by Alex Strauss. I was not disappointed by his cartoon performance! Consistent with his excellent use of cartoons in 2014 and 2015, he used cartoons to make some very complex hypotheses regarding the dilution effect very clear for the audience. I could even follow his talk before drinking any coffee!


Noam Ross had a few (adorable) cartoons in his talk. But I’m choosing him as the winner not just for his cute bat cartoon, but because all of his slides were so beautiful. You can go look at them here.

Zika, WNS, Anthrax, Bsal, and more

I hope you’re all preparing your parasite ecology cartoons for your ESA talks next week! I know I am – so I didn’t have time to make one for this week’s post. Oops! Here is some pressing parasite ecology news, instead!

Speaking of conferences, I wish I was at this one. The #WDA2016 tweets are making me jealous.

Zika virus is officially being transmitted by US mosquitoes. Also, we now know that Zika virus can definitely be sexually-transmitted. This has led the CDC to recommend that all pregnant women in the US be screened for infection. (WOW!) If you want to know about Zika in your state, here’s an interactive map that you can use.

Increased temperatures in Siberia thawed out frozen corpses, which led to an Anthrax outbreak in reindeer and herders. Yikes.

This isn’t exactly news, but the USFS has a story map about White Nose Syndrome that might be nice to use in the classroom.

I can’t remember if I already shared this, but the outbreak of turtle herpesvirus at the Great Barrier Reef looks brutal.

There’s a recent article on Bsal and monitoring efforts in the US that has really pretty graphics.

Another parasite ecology bonanza

If you only visit Parasite Ecology for the cartoons, you’re going to be disappointed, again. But if you want to catch up with a bunch of recent cool parasite ecology via a link dump, you’re in luck! Here’s some cool stuff that I read recently:

There are a LOT of parasites in the world, and obviously they don’t all share one common ancestor. So how many times has parasitism independently evolved? An insanely large number of times.

When mosquitoes are nutritionally deprived as larvae, their capacity as human malaria vectors is greatly reduced relative to mosquitoes that weren’t nutritionally deprived.

I also have news from the not-necessarily-parasitism side of the mutualism-parasitism continuum. Do you know what a lichen is? If you answered “a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga,” you answered just like all of the lichen experts of the past century. And you’re wrong.

Sidestepping the issue of whether a parasite ecology blog should feature brood parasites, honeyguides are the kind of brutal that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. If you don’t believe me, check out “a stab in the dark: chick killing by brood parasitic honeyguides.”

Finally, what’s the best way to control transmission of human schistosomiasis? Snail control is very effective.



Winner of the Unofficial ASP 2016 Cartoon Contest

As promised, I was hunting parasite cartoons at ASP 2016. I’m just going to give you guys the Honorable Mention, the Runner Up, and the Supreme Grandmaster (=Winner) of ASP 2016 parasite cartoons that I saw. I know I missed a bunch of good ones, so forgive me! Next time I’ll scrounge up a team of judges.

If you missed out on the parasite ecology cartoon competition at ASP, don’t despair! There will be another unofficial contest this summer at ESA 2016!

Honorable Mention:

Kevin Lafferty didn’t actually use any cartoons in his talk on ecological methods in parasitology, but he did advertise the Parasite Ecology blog and highlighted the diagram that I made for figuring out where you fall on the parasitologist to disease ecologist gradient. Thanks, Kevin!

 Runner Up:

The Runner Up was S.Y. Wang, whose talk was about infection-mediated temperature selection in tadpoles. Great talk with lots of cartoons!


Congratulations to Sara Weinstein – who talked about the origins of parasitism in Animalia – for being the SUPREME GRANDMASTER of ASP 2016 cartoons! Sara didn’t know it, but I’m a Spongebob fan, and she used all of the main Spongebob characters in one her phylogenies to indicate the mollusks, arthropods, echinoderms, etc. Sara was also the Honorable Mention for last year’s unofficial ESA parasite ecology cartoon contest.

Killing parasites and finding jobs that let you collect and kill parasites

I decided not to pre-write a post for today so that I would have to find something cool at ASP 2016 to blog about. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I actually found way too much cool stuff to blog about, and then I couldn’t decide what to focus on. In the end, I just picked the two topics that I thought would be most broadly interesting to folks who couldn’t attend ASP 2016, and you’ll just have to wonder about all of the other stuff that you missed. Stay tuned next week to find out who won the Unofficial ASP 2016 Parasite Ecology Contest! Spoiler: IT IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH DECISION.

Parasite eradication

This year, the President’s Symposium and the Eminent Parasitologist Lecture were combined in one session, whose theme was “Magic Bullets and Windows of Opportunity.”

Our very own Nobel laureate, Dr. Bill Campbell, pointed out that while we have many emerging infectious diseases, we also have some “submerging” infectious diseases as the result of disease eradication efforts. But he eloquently argued that we’re not very good at identifying good anti-parasite drugs using theory, so we’re not going to get any more submerging parasites unless we embrace the humiliation of trial and error and commit to empirical drug screening. He doesn’t think that academics should be doing the drug screening, though. Drug screening should be something that pharmaceutical companies do – not because someone tells them to, but because it can be highly successful ($$$). There’s also another perk: finding good drugs can turn you into a Nobel laureate who gets to sit beside a princess at dinner.

After Bill, Jane Carlton and Frank Richards talked about the possibilities of eliminating or eradicating malaria, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis. These diseases disproportionately burden impoverished peoples. Even though I knew that already, Jill said something that really surprised me and illustrated the burden of these parasites in a new, tangible way: the average Indian household spends 3% of their income on mosquito repellents/control. 3% of their income! Calculate 3% of your income and imagine losing that to mosquito control. You know what I spend 3% of my income on? Electricity.

Obviously, if the mosquito repellent/control techniques work, 3% of an income might be much smaller price to pay than terrible morbidity or mortality associated with malaria. But worryingly, the efficacies of the repellents and control methods aren’t very well studied, so people may be wasting their money on these remedies. This is sadly reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter where people are so frantic for any protection against Voldemort and the Death Eaters that they buy useless amulets and potions that from shady dealers like Mundungus. So it appears that we need an Arthur Weasley (Head of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects) for mosquito repellent, to ensure that already disproportionately burdened peoples aren’t losing 3% of their incomes to useless junk.

Parasitology Careers Outside of Academia

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the potentially not-awesome prospects of getting a job in academia as a parasitologist. Few academic job ads contain the word “parasitologist,” and disease ecologists appear to have more options. What about the odds of getting a job outside of academia as a parasitologist? Kym Jacobson (NWFSC), Kevin Lafferty (USGS), and Timothy Geary shared their (awesome) insights in a special session Tuesday afternoon.

Here’s the take home message: you’re going to find very few ads for parasitologists, whether you’re looking for jobs in academia, government agencies or NGOs, or industry. You have much better odds of finding a job if you can sell yourself more broadly as a trophic ecologist, zoologist, microbiologist, etc.

However, it may be really easy to add parasite research into an otherwise parasite-free position. The world needs people to study emerging infectious diseases, but it may be that in order to be one of those people, you need to wear multiple hats in a job where you get to study parasites sometimes, but not all of the time.

Good luck job hunting!

Parasite ecology bonanza

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have reached the point where I have accumulated so much awesome recent parasite ecology that I can’t devote an entire blog post to each paper. Therefore, today’s blog post is another parasite ecology bonanza:

A shadow network of patients are trying to treat their own debilitating diseases — by infecting themselves with gastrointestinal worms.” Which may make you wonder – does helminth therapy work?

There is a link between chicken flock behavior and Campylobacter infection status, where infected flocks move around less, and their movements are less uniform. It’s unclear whether  Campylobacter  alters chicken behavior of if sluggish flocks are more likely to become infected. However, observing flock behavior may be a better way to predict Campylobacter outbreaks than swabbing chickens.

There’s a big push to embrace the One Health paradigm in epidemiology/disease ecology. (Go look at my beautiful One Health Venn diagram and use it in your classes, if you haven’t yet!) However, to fully embrace the One Health concept, we may need more cross-talk and collaboration among three distinct networks of scientists: those who study domesticated animals, those who study wildlife, and those who study humans. The three groups are asking distinct questions and using distinct methods, and it looks like ecology folks don’t cite veterinary folks’ work and vice versa.

Here’s a cool study about parasite community assembly in buffalo. I like thinking about dominant versus subordinate parasite species…but I forgot to make a cartoon before this post came out.

Macroparasites are aggregately distributed among their hosts, and we expect host mortality rate to be dependent on parasite infection intensity. But we often can’t experimentally manipulate parasite loads, so how the heck do we figure out what parasite infection intensities lead to increased host mortality risk? Why, we use this BEAUTIFUL new statistical method, of course.

Thoughts on the disease triangle and chytridiomycosis – what are the relative contributions of the host, the pathogen, and the environment in determining chytrid outbreak severity?

Speaking of chytridiomycosis, the prevalence of infection in a frog population is lower when the mismatch between the host species’ and Bd’s thermal tolerances is greater. So I guess it’s hard to separate the host, the pathogen, and the environment .😛

And finally, hosts may become “addicted” to their defensive symbionts! In particular, host populations with defensive symbionts rely on symbionts for protection from pathogens, and therefore the frequency of resistance alleles doesn’t increase in the host population when parasite pressures are high…and thus hosts rely even more on their symbionts…etc.

Unofficial ASP 2016 Parasite Ecology Cartoon Contest

For the past few years, I’ve been conducting an unofficial parasite ecology cartoon contest at the annual ESA meeting – mostly for my own enjoyment, but also so that I can brag up peoples’ talks and parasite cartoons after the conference. This year, I’m also announcing an Unofficial ASP 2016 Parasite Ecology Cartoon Contest!  If you want to play – and I hope you will – all you need to do is put a cartoon in your ASP talk. You have a few weeks to find/create a good one!

Finer details:

You do not need to make your own cartoon. If you use a cartoon created by someone else, it’ll count as long as you properly attribute credit to the artist.

The cartoons don’t need to be funny! I’m just looking for cartoons that help communicate your work to the audience. That being said, anything punny is worth mega bonus points.

It’s logistically impossible for me to see every ASP talk. If you know you’re going to have some rocking cartoons and you want in on this highly prestigious contest, let me know in the comments or via email and I’ll make a special effort to come to your talk.

…my favorite cartoonist will be awarded an almost entirely worthless prize (i.e., some publicity for your cool science and bragging rights for a year).

Since I’m the only judge, my talk won’t be in the running for the contest. But my talk will have cartoons (and some terrible puns, sorry), so you’ll have to see if you can spot it.

Good luck!!