Nathan Burkett-Cadena: Research Interests

The biologies of vertebrate host animals have profound influence on the transmission of viruses and protozoans that can (and do) impact the lives of human beings. West Nile virus, for example, replicates well in the bodies of some birds, but not in others. However, being a good replication host for the virus is not the only factor determining whether or not a given bird contributes to the amplification of West Nile virus in nature. If a bird species that supports virus replication is "avoided" (not fed upon) by the mosquitoes in the area, then it contributes little to the spread of the virus. So why is one bird species avoided by mosquitoes, and another "preferred"? Does the avoided bird actively defend against attacking mosquitoes? Does it nest or roost high above the level where the mosquitoes search for hosts? Is it avoided by some mosquitoes, but preferred by others? How does preference and avoidance of different host species contribute to the amplification or suppression of virus transmission? A major focus of my research is centered on how (and why) different species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are preferred or avoided by different mosquito species (~80 mosquito species in Florida).

In addition to arboviruses that cause human and animal suffering, there is also a wide array of protozoan organisms that are mosquito-transmitted, but are not known to affect humans. Of particular interest to me are the mosquito-transmitted blood parasites (trypanosomes and apicomplexans) that infect reptiles and amphibians. While many species are described (dozens from Florida), little is known about the host range, vectors or ecologies of these mosquito-transmitted blood parasites. I hope to establish a long-term program for studying the ecology of these organisms as a model system for understanding vector-host-pathogen interactions.