Climate change and disease ecology at the southern end of the Americas

IRES Track II Cape Horn Advanced Studies Institutes (ASI)

This IRES Track II proposes an international collaboration to develop a set of experiential learning courses held in the USA and Chile. Using a hands on integrated thematic instruction approach, we organize student learning objectives around studying emerging infectious diseases in wildlife at the “southern tip of the world.” 

We will be conducting research on the emergence of Avian Malaria, and other pathogens in a pristine system with limited to no previous exposure to these infectious agents. Among the objectives are:

  • Introduce students to the unique ecology and culture of the subantarctic, and enable students to understand and articulate the attributes of this unique system;

  • Familiarize students with field and lab methods associated with studying disease ecology and statistical design methods;

  • Understand factors and consequences associated with pathogen spillover from one species to another;

  • Enhance student quantitative and analytical skills with statistical and spatial;

  • Professional  development for students in scientific writing of research papers for publication, and the development of scientific communications.

To accomplish these objectives, each ASI will have three phases: 

  1. A pre-field experience including virtual training in both the unique ecology and biocultural interactions of the sub-Antarctic region and experimental design.

  2. A 21-day intensive field experience at the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve off the southern coast of Chile. During the field intensive students will gain hands on experience in trapping birds, mosquitos, vegetation survey and  molecular genetic lab techniques for the study of diseases. Student will also receive instruction in data management and data quality and control practices.

  3. A series of post-field intensive virtual sessions on statistical analysis and scientific writing will culminate in the submission of a peer-review paper based on the ASI field experience. During all phases of the ASI students will work and collaborate with international students and senior researchers.

The lead U.S. collaborators are, from UNT, Andrew Gregory (PI; avian spatial ecology/genetics), James Kennedy (Co-PI; freshwater ecology), Ricardo Rozzi (Co-PI, subantarctic ecology and conservation), and Brian Buma (geospatial analysis), and  Christopher Elphick (avian ecologist) from Univ. of Colorado and Connecticut, respectively.

Lead collaborators in Chile are from the Universidad de Magallanese and the Chilean Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, and include Francisco Aguirre, Tamara Contador, Roy MacKenzie, Juan Rivero and Elke Schüttler, who are experts in Sub Antarctic ecology, climate change, remote sensing, entomology, microbiology, and ornithology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the importance that wildlife disease spillover can have on just about every person and every facet of life. We need effective monitoring of wildlife diseases and people trained in the study of emerging infectious diseases in wildlife. In particular we need people trained in rapid detection techniques such as the use of molecular genetic probes. This ASI will train graduate students and set them on a path to become world experts in these research areas. ASIs will be held in one of the most pristine areas of the planet, the southern region of Chile, where avian malaria constitutes a threat to bird populations. Moreover, to combat and study emerging diseases future scholars will have to work as part of interdisciplinary and international research teams. ASIs will provide them with critical experience in both areas. Through interdisciplinary research activities conducted by an international team of scholars with complementary competencies, in a pristine natural and unique cultural environment, U.S. students will acquire critical skills in addressing pressing regional conservation issues triggered by global socio-environmental change and wildlife disease. Lastly, the work being conducted will be the first such work conducted in this part of the world and will provide an immediate applied conservation benefit to subantarctic bird conservation.

This IRES Track II presents a singular opportunity for U.S. students to engage in innovative research projects at the southernmost forest ecosystems of the world. 

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