Dr. Barry W. Alto

Associate Professor

Biology has always been an interest for me from childhood. I developed interest in ecology during my undergraduate studies at University of St. Thomas as a result of coursework and research projects. My Masters research was completed in the laboratory of Dr. Steven Juliano at Illinois State University on population dynamics of the invasive Asian tiger mosquito. In particular, my research focused on the effects of predicted climate change and distribution of the Asian tiger mosquito. From Illinois I headed towards warmer weather at University of Florida (Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory) to work with Dr. Philip Lounibos on my Ph.D. research, interspecific competition between the Asian tiger and Yellow fever mosquitoes and consequences for susceptibility to arthropod-borne (arbo) viruses. During this time I became very interested in environmental modifiers of virus infection processes. As a result I began discussions with Dr. Paul Turner at Yale University about mutual interests in the ecology and evolution of viruses. Upon completion of my Ph.D. research I moved to Connecticut after being awarded the Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (http://www.yale.edu/yibs/). I worked with Paul Turner in the Yale Department of Ecology and Evolutionary biology where my research focused on experimental evolution of viruses. There I investigated the impact of temperature variation on the evolution of vesicular stomatitis virus populations as well as the adaptive consequences for evolved host breadth in novel environments.

From Connecticut I accepted a position as Medical Entomologist and Director of the Medical Entomology program, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois. There I established a research program testing hypotheses related to biotic and abiotic factors which mediate changes in mosquito life history traits, interspecific interactions among mosquitoes, and interactions between mosquitoes and arboviruses. From Illinois I returned to University of Florida (FMEL) as an Assistant Professor in 2010 because of research opportunities and to be closer to family. I head research in biosafety level 2 and 3 laboratories suitable for studying virus interactions with arthropod vectors in vivo (e.g., mosquitoes) and hosts in vitro (e.g., mammalian cells). My research focus is on ecological interactions that alter life history triats, population growth, community structure and susceptibility of mosquitoes to infection with arboviruses.

Ontogenetic niche shifts, which often entail a dramatic change in habitat or diet, occur among many taxa which undergo complete metamorphosis, such as frogs and some insects, including mosquitoes. Abiotic factors and interactions with other species at earlier stages (e.g., aquatic larval stage) can influence later stages (e.g., terrestrial adult stage) and shape plastic responses for individual traits such rate of growth and development. In many instances, these carry-over effects between stages may be classified as indirect effects where interactions between two species (e.g., competition), or abiotic factors such as temperature, may alter interactions with a third species. The epidemiological consequences of ecological interactions that transcend life history stages of insect vectors of pathogens, such as mosquitoes, have not been well studied. Species interactions (e.g., competition, predation) and abiotic factors (temperature, insecticide) affecting the larval stage may play an important role in determining individual traits, including those traits related to vectoring ability of adult mosquitoes for arboviruses. My research emphasis fills these intellectual gaps to further our understanding of mosquito ecology and disease transmission. Another area of research examines how thermal adaptation affects temperature performance, molecular evolution, and niche breadth of an RNA virus (vesicular stomatitis virus).

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