Update from the Species Interactions in Transmission Group (SpIT!): RCN Year 2

Blog post by Catherine Herzog

Excitement was in the air this past summer as members of the SpIT group gathered in London for the second RCN meeting and had a chance to finally see each other again in person since the first RCN in March 2016.  Five new members joined the group: Richard Hall (UGA), Michelle Evans (UGA), David Vasquez (UGA), Trishna Desnai (Denison), and Marie Russell (EPA Fellow, Imperial).

In its first year, SpIT! began by investigating how predation influences vector traits relevant to vector-borne disease (VBD) transmission.   We developed a mathematical model of predation and vectorborne disease risk. While looking to parameterize the model, we began a subgroup focused on literature searches and meta-analysis of the predation literature on our four vectors of interest: the mosquito, tick, aphid, and triatomine.  We explored the following questions:

  1. What evidence is there that vector populations of any stage are regulated by predators? In which life history and vector traits?
  2. What are the direct and indirect effects of predators on vector traits and transmission? What are the consumptive and non-consumptive effects?
  3. Are predator effects mediated by: predator/parasitoid/parasite identity, vector identity, type of experiment (natural/experimental), natural/ introduced predator, location/latitude, landscape, life stage, predator strategies?

At this second RCN meeting, the SpIT group continued working on our predation model, literature review and meta-analysis, and had whiteboard discussions about two other vector interactions: co-infection and competition.

After considering all three species interactions (predation, co-infection, and competition) all together, we rephrased our original question to: Do species interactions (co-infection, interspecific competition, or predation) impact vectorborne disease transmission and under what conditions?  In this second year of the RCN, SpIT plans to complete the already started predation model and meta-analysis work and proceed to move forward with a manuscript aiming to look at the mechanisms of species interactions that impact vectorborne disease transmission.  In this process, we will also identify and record gaps in knowledge, design future experiments for Simple Measurements Across Sites and Habitats (SMASH) work. Ultimately, this work will contribute to improved applications for potential control of VBD.

The RCN meeting was not all work, work, work and our members had time to enjoy the hike and BBQ food truck organized by the RCN Board, to chat at the pub down the street at the end of the day, and to enjoy the new swag stickers of the SpIT logo, developed by Trishna Desnai.  The SpIT group had a productive and fun time at the 2017 RCN and is already looking forward to the 2018 RCN.