Prior to joining the lab I received a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies and a M.S. in the graduate program of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior at the University of Buffalo. I joined the Clayton-Bush lab because I am fascinated by the fact that many organisms have at least one parasitic phase to their life cycle and I want to examine the evolutionary effects of parasitic associations more thoroughly.
Current Research: Evolutionary Ecology and Genetics of Cryptic Coloration in Lice
I am examining the evolutionary patterns of adaptive coloration in feather lice. Cryptic coloration has developed over macroevolutionary time in lice that live and feed on bird feathers. Across lice that infest a diverse assemblage of bird species, lice are lighter on lighter colored hosts and darker on darker colored hosts because lice that do not match the color of their host’s feathers are selectively removed when the host preens. I am examining adaptive pigmentation variation in microevolutionary time using a single bird species, Columba livia, and its parasitic feather louse, Columbicola columbae. I am experimentally evolving C. columbae in natural conditions, on bird hosts varying only in color. To understand associations between phenotypic and genetic change I am using an evolve and resequence approach. By exploring the evolutionary genetics of cryptic coloration in the parasitic pigeon louse I will be able to link macroevolutionary and microevolutionary patterns of adaptive coloration.
Phylogeny: Brueelia is a highly diverse (over 280 species) and globally distributed louse genus, which parasitizes songbirds (Passeriformes). These lice are interesting ecologically because phoretic dispersal on hippoboscid flies occurs frequently in this genus. I am part of a collaborative project that is constructing a comprehensive molecular phylogeny for this hyper-diverse genus. This phylogeny will allow for the examination of patterns in Brueelia diversification in relation to host biogeography and parasite ecology. Sample collection: Collaborations between other universities and institutes with the Clayton-Bush lab gave me the opportunity to collect Brueelia samples for this project in several unique locations. In the summer of 2012 I was part of a biodiversity survey in the Philippines where I collected parasites from vertebrates in several locations throughout the island of Mindanao. Additionally in the fall of 2013 I surveyed birds near Umeå, Sweden for ectoparasites.
Ecology of an Invasive parasite in the Galapagos Islands
In the winter of 2012 in collaboration with Sarah Knutie, another graduate student in the lab, I studied the impact of the parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, on Darwin’s finches and the Galapagos mockingbird on Santa Cruz Island. This work will aid in understanding the effects of introduced parasites on susceptible and reservoir hosts in vulnerable ecosystems such as the Galapagos Islands.
DiBlasi E, Morse S, Mayberry J, Avila L, Morando M, Dittmar K. 2011. New Spiroplasma in parasitic Leptus mites and their Agathemera walking stick hosts from Argentina. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology doi:10.1016/j.jip.2011.05.013
Dittmar K, Morse S, Gruwell M, Mayberry J, DiBlasi E. 2011. Spatial and temporal complexities of reproductive behavior and sex ratios: A case from parasitic insects. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19438. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019438