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Rachel_In_GreenhouseParasites are infamous for causing great harm – and sometimes even death – to their hosts. Understanding risks and consequences of infection is therefore critically important for public health, wildlife management, and agriculture. One aim of my research is to increase our understanding of how ecological context affects the risk of infection and consequences of disease for hosts.

Effects of parasites can also extend beyond host populations. Changes in the density or traits of infected hosts may affect other members of the ecological community, and alter flows of energy and nutrients through food webs. Thus, another aim of my research is to uncover how parasites influence the ecosystems in which they occur.

To achieve these aims, I use a combination of observational, experimental, and theoretical approaches. I have employed these complementary approaches in three different study systems:

(1) a planktonic crustacean (Daphnia dentifera) and its fungal pathogen (Metschnikowia bicuspidata) in lakes in the midwestern USA,

(2) an herbaceous plant (Plantago lanceolata) and its powdery mildew pathogen (Podosphaera plantaginis) in a network of meadows in the Åland Islands of southwest Finland,

(3) agricultural food webs involving forage crops (alfalfa and clover), pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum), and parasitoid wasps (Aphidius ervi) in the midwestern USA.

Click the Research tab to learn more about my ongoing projects.