I examine fundamental ecological and evolutionary questions in parasite systems and consider my research to be at the interface of ecology, evolution, and genetics. Parasitology provides a rich subject area for studies of ecology and evolutionary biology. Numerous topics such as ecosystem dynamics, mating systems, or coevolution can be addressed because parasites are extremely diverse. By diversity, I include not only the myriad of taxa that have independently evolved a parasitic lifestyle, but also the diversity in life cycles, modes of reproduction, host species, and ecosystems utilized by parasites. This diversity also allows for comparative studies to address theories or unifying principles that span ecosystems or taxonomic groups. Furthermore, there are many practical applications such as studying the evolution of drug resistance, or using parasite community structure to assess “ecosystem health”. My research interests address both basic and applied questions, and span three overlapping subject areas: 1) Genetics and Ecological Genomics, 2) Evolution: Population Genetics, Mating Systems, and Molecular Epidemiology, and 3) Ecology: Biodiversity, Conservation, and Natural History.
We use a population genetics approach to research the underlying principles that govern the ecology and evolution of metazoan parasites of animals (e.g., nematodes, platyhelminths). A central theme in our research is to ask what parasite ecological and life history traits influence evolutionary mechanisms and hence, resultant patterns of genetic variation within and among parasite populations. Moreover, the direct observation of many parasite population processes such as mating behaviors or dispersal is impeded due to their small sizes, infection sites within hosts, and complex life cycles. Thus, our research uses population genetics theory and molecular methods to elucidate the often hidden and elusive biology of parasites. In addition, our lab has advocated and demonstrated the application of evolutionary genetics to the field of epidemiology in order to better understand the transmission and evolutionary potential of human or economically important parasites. In particular, the use of population genetics methods to identify foci of transmission in human parasites (i.e., molecular epidemiology). We are interested in several evolutionary and molecular ecological based topics including how life cycle patterns influence local scale transmission processes (as inferred from genetic markers), the elucidation of parasite mating systems (e.g., selfing versus outcrossing), and factors that affect inbreeding in natural populations of parasites.
The biodiversity and natural history of parasites in many systems remain uncharacterized. This is unfortunate because parasites can constitute a significant proportion of the biomass in an ecosystem, regulate host populations, alter individual host behaviors, and be an important component in food-web chains. Our lab conducts parasite biodiversity research from the discovery of new species to the elucidation of complex life cycles. For the latter research, we largely use molecular markers from field collected specimens to identify new species and to match specimens between intermediate and final hosts. Other ecological based projects include the conservation genetics of a recently delisted water snake, invasion biology, and interactions between introduced parasites and native or exotic hosts.
||Hayden Kusy started as the new Research Technician in the Criscione Lab–Welcome Hayden!|
||Check out our two recent papers in Molecular Ecology! The first paper provides the first nature-derived, direct estimates of the primary mating system of a hermaphroditic flatworm parasite. The second paper provides novel methods to elucidate co-transmission of sibling parasites and to estimate kin-mating rates.|
|Sept. 2017||The Criscione Lab was awarded an NSF grant to study the role parasite mating systems have in impacting the evolution of parasite life cycle complexity!|
|Aug. 2017||Dr. Emily Kasl, former PhD student in the Criscione Lab, started her tenure-track Assistant Professor position at the University of North Alabama. Congratulations and best wishes Dr. Kasl!|
|July 2017||Dr. Charles Criscione was featured on the department’s Faculty Spotlight. Read the story here.|
|June 2017||Charles Criscione and Isabel Caballero presented their research at the American Society of Parasitologists in San Antonio, TX.|
|May 2017||Dr. Isabel Caballero, former postdoc in the Criscione Lab, is moving on to a new postdoc position. We will miss Dr. Caballero, but wish her well in her new position.|
|Feb. 2017||A new publication on the cryptic lineage diversity in the rat lungworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis! This study was done in collaboration with a visiting PhD student and now, Dr. Sirilak Dusitsittipon from Thailand.|