My interests lie within the field of molecular ecology, more specifically they centre around how using genetic approaches can aid the conservation of biodiversity. To date I have applied this interest to the phylogenetics and pollinating behaviour of Australian native pollinators, and the captive management of the Madagascar big-headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis).
UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS AND DETERMINANTS OF RECOVERY OF A REGIONALLY ICONIC WILD FOOD RESOURCE FOLLOWING ITS NEAR-EXTINCTION DUE TO INFECTIOUS DISEASE
My current project will use genetic techniques to aid the conservation of the critically endangered mountain chicken frog (Leptodactylus fallax). The mountain chicken frog is a critically endangered amphibian, found only on the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat. Being one of the largest amphibians in the world, it was an important source of wild food on both islands. Until recently, up to 36,000 MCFs were harvested annually for consumption on Dominica where it was the unofficial national dish.
Hunting and/or eating the MCF is now illegal as so few (~130) are left in the wild, following the arrival of the lethal fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobaditis (Bd) in 2002 in Dominica and 2009 in Montserrat. Bd causes chytridiomycosis, a disease infecting over 500 species of amphibians globally. In 2012 and in subsequent years, recovering populations of the frogs have been observed on Dominica. Unlike their predecessors, some of these frogs are carrying Bd on their skin without clinical signs of chytridiomycosis, i.e. exhibiting a newly observed tolerance to Bd.
I am aiming to approach the question "how are mountain chicken frogs now able to exist with Bd?" by looking at both host and pathogen genetics. I will look at genes involved in immunity, and the types of microbes living on the frog's skin (the site of infection for Bd), searching for key differences that could be contributing to Bd tolerance. I will also genotype our archive of Bd DNA, to understand what lineages of the fungus lie behind the outbreak. Understanding more about how the mountain chicken frog can now survive Bd infection will be important in developing strategies to mitigate chytridiomycosis in the mountain chicken and the hundreds of other amphibian species threatened by this disease.