Andy S. Flies, PhD 2012
Wildlife disease outbreaks can have dramatic effects on overall ecosystem stability. New diseases and ecological pressures are being introduced to wild populations at alarming rates primarily due to anthropogenic forces. The reduction in population size of top carnivores, particularly keystone species, can radically alter the dynamics of the entire ecosystem. My goal is to improve our understanding of how the ecology of host-pathogen interactions, as mediated by the immune system, affects the role of a keystone species in the African savannah. Scavenging animals are likely exposed to higher levels of pathogens than non-scavengers and need to have a robust immune system to neutralize the deleterious effects of increased exposure. Onset of disease post-exposure is highly variable in carnivores and is modulated by immunological mechanisms of pathogen clearance or tolerance. Animals with highly functional immune responses may be able to eliminate the pathogen, while tolerant hosts may suppress the pathogen, but allow it to persist in a benign form. This increases the probability of spreading the pathogen to other animals that may be more susceptible to disease induced by the pathogen. Canine distemper virus (CDV) and rabies epizootics have killed large numbers of lions ( Panthera leo ) and wild dogs ( Lycaon pictus ) in East Africa in the recent decades, while seropositive hyenas showed no symptoms of either disease and may have served as a vector for dispersing the viruses.
Andy is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of South Australia. You can find his website here: