A step toward conservation: Livdahl receives $380,000 NIH grant for parasite dynamics research

Front row, L-R: Jamie Fitzgerald, Katy Gibbs, Julie Erthal, Linda Valsdottir Back row, L-R: John Soghigian, Matt Warndorf, Prof. Todd Livdahl

Professor Todd Livdahl of Clark's Department of Biology recently was awarded a three-year, $380,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research titled "Community diversity and parasite dynamics." This award will support Livdahl’s research on “host dilution,” a hypothesized relationship between the success of a disease and the number of species that the disease can infect.

The host dilution idea stems from the fact many parasites/diseases have multiple hosts and some hosts are better at transmitting the disease, while others are not. The more host species infected by a parasite/disease, the less likely the disease will thrive because of multiple "dead end" infections that don't lead to transmission to the next host.

“This is primarily an intuitive idea that really doesn’t have much evidence, largely because not too many experiments have been done to investigate it. This is what we can try to do in laboratory experiments,” said Livdahl.

Livdahl and his research students will test this idea by infecting between one and six communities of mosquito larvae with a parasite. The team will compare the success of the parasite among different levels of host diversity. These lab studies will be accompanied by field collections, looking at the number of mosquito larvae that are parasitized in relation to the number of species that are present in a particular area. This project will be conducted in collaboration with the renowned Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which will provide the different mosquito species for the experiments.

Katy Gibbs works in the lab.

“The host dilution concept is important because it provides possible justification for species conservation, and forms a link between disease ecology and conservation ecology,” Livdahl notes.

Livdahl and his research students conduct ongoing investigations of species interactions, with a focus on mosquitoes that develop within small bodies of water. The team studies how mosquitos native to the United States are affected by invading mosquitoes.

Professor Livdahl is an expert in population ecology and species interactions, aquatic biology, biostatistics, mosquito ecology and evolution. He obtained his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of North Carolina and B.A. cum laude (Biology) from St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. He has been recognized as an Illinois State Scholar, Universities' Research Association Fellow at Society of Sigma Xi, and as a Clark University Research Fellow. He also has been awarded numerous grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, State of Florida, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Keck Foundation.

* Watch: Matt Warndorf '12 talks about his research with Professor Livdahl's team.

For more information please contact Prof. Livdahl at 508-793-7514 or by email.