Evolutionary and Ecological
Entomology Lab

My interests broadly lie in ecological immunology, understanding how ecological factors – both biotic and abiotic – influence the workings of the immune system and shape its evolution. I use insect models to investigate 'immune priming', a form of immune memory whereby an initial encounter with a parasite gives rise to a faster and stronger response against secondary reinfection.
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My PhD research examines the role of 'socially-induced' immune priming: increased investment in immunity by healthy hosts following contact with immune-challenged conspecifics. Although such 'social immunisation' has recently been suggested to occur only in eusocial insects, I investigate its potential in a non-social but group-living species which shares many of the same ecological challenges presented to eusocial insects, the mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor). My work utilises two main approaches: (i) functional assays which quantify a range of physiological immune defences (e.g. encapsulation, phenoloxidase activity), and (ii) behavioural analyses which examine potential behavioural immune responses (e.g. the physical avoidance of infected neighbours).
I co-developed an automated motion tracking system capable of quantifying locomotion in a broad range of insects. I used this to investigate 'sickness behaviours' in T. molitor, which are changes in behaviour during infection that may help the host to combat a parasite or reduce its negative effects upon fitness. Such immune-induced behavioural changes could also act as a visual signal of infection status which warns nearby neighbours of a parasitic threat.
I am also interested in transgenerational immune priming – where immune-challenged mothers and fathers can immune prime their offspring against future infection – and disease tolerance – an alternative immune strategy (different to resistance) which can allow hosts to combat the negative effects of infection without directly harming the parasite.
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