Ecosystem Science and Management Assistant Professor Dr. Heather Bryan received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant worth $152,500 to study how changes to the environment affect the interplay between parasites and their hosts.
Environmental change can have cascading effects on ecosystems, affecting many relationships among species.
Ecosystem Science and Management Assistant Professor Dr. Heather Bryan is focused on learning more about the effects of environmental stressors in a changing landscape on the interactions between parasites and their hosts. Bryan received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant worth $152,500 to study how changes to the environment affect the interplay between parasites and their hosts.
“Parasites are ubiquitous and important parts of ecosystems, but can have negative effects on their hosts when relationships with their hosts become unbalanced, which can occur when the environment is altered,” Bryan explains.
The project, titled Disease ecology and ecophysiology of wildlife in changing ecosystems, will focus on species of high cultural and conservation importance, such as moose and deer. The research will examine important diseases and parasites, including chronic wasting disease and winter tick.
“Through this project, we are looking to gain an improved understanding of the role that predators, including human hunters, have on disease transmission in prey populations,” Bryan explains. “This knowledge may be particularly relevant in preparing for the spread of chronic wasting disease into new areas with diverse predator communities, such as western Canada.”
In addition, Bryan aims to identify landscape configurations and forestry practices that promote wildlife health and balanced parasite-host associations. She also wants to better understand the effects of landscape change on wildlife physiology, immune responses, and susceptibility to disease.
Bryan’s research has a strong connection to the region. Many of the species, both hosts and parasites, call the forests of British Columbia’s central interior home.
“As a researcher, being able to connect with the species I study, the ecosystem where that species lives, and the people who care about and have extensive knowledge about that species, is an essential part of the research process,” Bryan says. “From developing meaningful research questions and methodologies to ensuring results are applied.”
The project will provide funding towards four graduate and four undergraduate research positions.
“For part of this research, my students and I will be working in partnership with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development in the BC Provincial Government, who have established a long-term moose research program,” Bryan says. “This partnership will allow us to use data collected over the past six years from multiple areas across B.C. These connections also mean our results may directly inform moose conservation measures.”