Students and residents
"Vancouver Rat Project"
For my doctoral research I am working with the Vancouver Rat Project to answer two broad questions that deal with rats and the diseases they carry. One of the major findings from the Vancouver Rat Project is that diseases carried by rats are unevenly distributed across city blocks. This means that some blocks have many infected rats while others have none. One hypothesis we have for this distribution is that rat social structure (colony formation) and movement (small home ranges with minimal movement between blocks) results in little disease transmission between blocks. My first research question is: How does rat movement and social structure influence disease transmission in rats from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside? To answer this question I will be using rat genetic data to construct family trees, which will help to identify related rats and those that have migrated.
Rats are capable of transmitting a number of pathogens to people. Additionally, their fleas may transmit pathogens among rats and from rats to people. The Vancouver Rat Project found that approximately 1/3 of rats in the Downtown Eastside had fleas. My second research question is: Do these rat fleas carry bacteria which are a risk to human health? To answer this question I will be sequencing the bacterial communities associated with rat fleas and identifying both known and novel bacteria. This information will add to what is known about microbes carried by rats in the Downtown Eastside and will further help to inform rat control programs.
"Health assessments of urban and free-ranging mule deer in SE BC"
"Diagnostic evaluation and treatment of Psoroptes infestations in captive bighorn sheep"
"Health assessment of free-ranging Stone's sheep in NW BC"
"Caribou herd health parameters from NW BC community collections"
Information Coming Soon
"Could rats pose a health risk for people living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside? Understanding the ecology of Toxoplasma gondii in wild Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) from an inner-city neighborhood"
The project will involve a further investigation of preliminary results found through the CWHC-sponsored Vancouver Rat Project, where 25% of wild urban Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) had serological evidence of exposure to the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. T. gondii is a ubiquitous zoonotic parasite (meaning it can be transmitted between animals and people), with the potential to cause debilitating life-long health consequences in humans. However, as there is scant information available on the molecular ecology, epidemiology, or public health significance of this parasite in urban rats, this project will focus on the ecology and potential public health risk of T. gondii in wild urban Norway rats in Vancouver's downtown eastside (DTES) neighbourhood.
Ten years ago, concerns were raised in 5 remote communities in the Northwest Territories around dog overpopulation and zoonotic disease risks. A needs assessment indicated few dogs were historically vaccinated against rabies, dewormed or sterilized and there was a desire to have access to veterinary services. Annual access to basic veterinary services have been provided since, and anecdotally dogs seem healthier and communities seem to have better control. This masters thesis project will look at the changes in dog health and welfare and community perceptions of dogs and issues around dogs since the program started.
“Refining and testing predictive models for host-parasite interactions in a changing climate: the case of Marshallagia marshalli and its latitudinal plasticity in thermal tolerance”
Alejandro’s project aims to contribute to the knowledge of climate change impacts on host-parasite interactions, and to develop and refine predictive models based on metabolic theory of ecology. He will be focused on evaluating the impact of Marshallagia marshalli in fitness indicators in Dall’s and bighorn sheep, comparing also the key life history characteristics of M. marshalli across a latitudinal gradient.
Juliette Di Francesco
Juliette is a veterinarian from France. She graduated as a DVM at the Veterinary School of Alfort in France. During her Veterinary curriculum, she carried out several internships in South-East Asia and studied the emergence of zoonotic diseases transmitted by pigs in Asia. She is currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, supervised by Dr. Susan Kutz. Juliette's project focuses on Muskox Health and Resilience at an individual and population level.
Matilde is a veterinarian from Italy. During her academic career, she developed a great interest in wildlife disease ecology and wildlife conservation medicine, attending specific courses both at the University of Milan, where she graduated in 2009, and both at the University of Las Palmas (Spain) as an exchange student. Matilde is a PhD student in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, UofC, supervised by Dr. Sylvia Chekley and co-supervised by Dr. Susan Kutz. Matilde's project is about Muskox disease Ecology, Epidemiology and Public Health.
"Wild birds as sentinels for the health effects of air pollution around Calgary"
The health effects of ambient air pollution are difficult to confirm, as they generally occur after chronic exposure, are non-specific, and the causal compounds typically leave no measurable residues in the tissues. This project seeks to complement existing medical epidemiological studies by identifying physiological biomarkers in free-living wild birds that are exposed to the same air pollution as urban residents in Calgary. Indicators of immune function, chronic stress, oxidative stress and liver detoxification effort, among others, are analyzed in nestlings of wild birds naturally inhabiting different areas in the city in which we are measuring air levels of the pollutants of concern. The information generated will provide additional tools for environmental monitoring and decision-making.
“Climate change and muskox lungworms: Tracking and predicting distribution and range expansion in the Canadian Arctic”
During a relatively short history, these two protostrongylid nematodes, previously limited to Canadian mainland, have emerged and substantially expanded their range in the Arctic Archipelago. Detected for the first time between 2008 and 2010 in southern parts of Victoria Island, findings from field surveys indicate that there has been a significant increase in prevalence, infection intensity and geographical range across the island since their emergence in Victoria Island. With climate warming occurring at unprecedented rate, more intensely in the arctic region, and the influence of temperature on parasite development already established, warming climate of the arctic can be considered as one of the important driving factors. My project aims to establish and track the current distribution limit and determine the potential range of these lungworms under past, present and future climatic conditions.
Fabien is a Swiss veterinarian with a strong interest in wildlife and epidemiology.
His project focuses on improving our understanding of muskox health in the Canadian Arctic. He will use a participatory approach combined with statistical analysis to gain insight on the epidemiological processes driving muskox populations. In particular, he is interested in pathogens that might be emerging in the Arctic, such as the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.
"Landscape Epidemiology of Health Determinants in Free-Ranging Boreal Caribou from Northeastern British Columbia."
Boreal caribou are red-listed and declining and infectious diseases and other health determinants may negatively impact their survival and reproduction. Using health data from 240 radio-collared caribou from northeastern BC, my research objectives include 1) to provide a description of the current health status of boreal caribou during a year of unusually high mortality, 2) to investigate caribou health temporally and spatially on a landscape level and investigate whether caribou health is associated with a variety of abiotic and biotic factors, and 3) to evaluate whether hair cortisol concentration, haptoglobin, and serum amyloid A can be used as physiological bio-indicators of caribou health.
“Migration and Parasitism: Wildlife health in the changing Canadian Arctic”
Might parasites be a cause?
Math can help find out!
This haiku summarizes my research, which lies at the interface of ecology, wildlife health, and mathematical modelling. I am currently an NSERC postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Susan Kutz (UCalgary) and Dr. Peter Molnar (UToronto), working on developing models to understand parasite dynamics in migratory species with application to caribou in the Canadian Arctic.
María Fernanda Mejía-Salazar, MVZ
"Social relationships and use of environmental sites as factors to better understand chronic wasting disease transmission dynamics among free ranging mule deer in Saskatchewan".
By doing direct observations on free-ranging mule deer, we are exploring the factors that affect the structure of mule deer society and their contact rates throughout the year. Also, by deploying a system of triggered-by-movement cameras at different environmental site types, we are investigating their patterns of visitation as a proxy for environmental prion contamination. We want to integrate this knowledge with disease dynamics to gain a better understanding of chronic wasting disease transmission in wild populations.
"Morbidity and Mortality in Big brown bats of Western Canada"
A combination of diagnostic specimens and field samples will be analyzed to determine prevalence and trends of disease in big brown bats of Western Canada. Identifying risk factors or patterns of disease occurrence has broad implications for the conservation of bats, which is important because of recent declines of some bat populations and the apparent role of bats in emerging diseases in humans and domestic animals.
"Epidemiology of Ixodes scapularis and Borrelia burgdorferi in pet dogs living in an emerging Lyme disease area in Ontario."
By using pet dogs as sentinel species for tick collection, we will be working with 15 veterinary practices in southeastern Ontario to conduct a space-time analysis on how the rate of tick removal varies by season and practice location.Through the use of a questionnaire, this study will provide fundamental epidemiological information to better understand the impact of geographical- and animal-level characteristics on the carriage of Ixodes scapularis and Borrelia burgdorferi in pet dogs.As the geographical range of this vector expands in Ontario, veterinarians require information to make evidence based decisions regarding tick control and Lyme disease exposure in their patients.
Thesis: "Understanding the influence of abiotic and biotic factors in Lyme disease ecology to predict the future distribution of endemic risk areas in Ontario"
By conducting active tick surveillance and collecting ecological site data at over 100 sites in 3 ecoregions in Ontario, we hope to gain an understanding of which ecological factors play a role in the spread and establishment of a blacklegged tick population and endemic cycles of B. burgdorferi. This knowledge will aid in public health risk assessment and targeted preventative public health measures to help decrease the incidence of human Lyme disease.
"The impact of host and environmental factors on the distribution of zoonotic pathogens in wild rats from Vancouver, Canada"
Rats live in cities around the world, often in very close proximity to people. They carry several zoonotic pathogens (infectious agents that can be transmitted from rats to people). We are taking a detailed look at individual rats, including all of their various rat-specific diseases such as heart disease to determine if these have an impact on whether or not they carry zoonotic pathogens. Also, we will determine features of the urban environment that are associated with rats that carry zoonotic pathogens. This research will contribute to a growing effort to understand urban rats and the potential risks they pose to human health.
"Strengthening Ontario’s capacity to monitor wildlife health through understanding the wildlife health network and identifying key health monitoring factors"
We are using a survey given to Ontario wildlife health professionals to construct a model of the Ontario wildlife health network and outline the movement of health data through it. We are also gathering professionals from different aspects of the network to create a definition of wildlife health and identify key factors that can be used to monitor wildlife health. Together, this research will help us have a better understanding of the communication that happens in the Ontario wildlife health network as well as factors that can be used to create proactive health management strategies for wildlife conservation.
"Investigating enteric coccidiosis in the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)"Black-footed ferrets (BFF) are the only native North American ferret species and the most endangered North American carnivore. Since 1986, a multi-institutional effort, including the Toronto Zoo, has bred BFF in captivity with successful reintroduction into the wild in Canada, the USA and Mexico. Enteric coccidiosis is endemic in breeding colonies and a major cause of death in young ferrets. Little is known about this disease in BFF and research is necessary to describe shedding patterns of oocysts during infection, and to better target treatment and prevention methods to improve ex-situ and in-situ management. This project consists of a) describing the shedding patterns of coccidial species in naturally infected BFF at the Toronto Zoo; b) molecular characterization of the coccidia isolated from BFF at the zoo. These are the preliminary steps in a larger project intended to evaluate current and novel methods of coccidial treatment for use in BFF, and investigate the production of an anti-coccidial vaccine.
"Health assessment to determine disease prevalence in wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in Ontario"
A health assessment will be performed to determine the prevalence and distribution of disease in Ontario Wild Turkeys. Using samples acquired from hunter-harvested turkeys, testing will be targeted toward pathogens previously identified through turkey necropsies performed at the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, including: salmonella, e. coli, mycoplasmosis, histomoniasis, avian pox, avian cholera, aspergillosis, avian influenza, erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae and reticuloendotheliosis virus; and also lymphoproliferative disease virus. This study aims to establish baseline data that can be used in monitoring, conservation and management strategies to help maintain a healthy and sustainable wild turkey population in Ontario.
Information will be added soon.
"Powassan Virus and Other Tick-Borne Pathogens from Wildlife in Southern Ontario"
Our study aims to investigate the geographic distribution and magnitude of infestation of small mammalian wildlife species with ticks, look for evidence of tick-borne pathogens in these ticks and determine the mostly likely wildlife reservoir host species for POWV. Results from this research will help to identify the tick species most commonly found on Ontario wildlife, as well as the current distribution, wildlife host range, and prevalence of POWV.
Shannon French is examining risk factors relating to Baylisascaris procyonis infection in raccoons. Raccoons are the primary host of the raccoon roundworm, which is a parasite that can cause neurologic disease when it infects people and other animals. We have been monitoring the prevalence of this parasite over the past 4 years in order to better understand factors that influence the presence and spread of the parasite. We hope to use this information as well as identification of any hot spots to help guide public health efforts and public education.
Jonathon Kotwa, MSc candidate
“Prevalence and geographic distribution of Echinococcus multilocularis in coyotes and foxes across southern Ontario”
Alveolar echinococcosis (AE), disease due to the intermediate stage of Echinococcus multilocularis, is potentially fatal in humans and dogs when left untreated. Prior to 2012, Ontario was considered free of this parasite. Since then, AE has been reported in five dogs and two non-human primates in southern Ontario; of these cases, six had no travel history, suggesting there are now wild canids shedding eggs into the Ontario environment. This project aims to determine the prevalence and distribution of infection in coyotes and foxes (the most likely definitive hosts), across southern Ontario, and will identify predictive factors for infection in these species.
Benjamin Lamglait, Veterinary Resident
Research Topic: The use of electro-immobilisation for handling wild fish.
Rozenn Le Net, Veterinary Resident
Research Topic: Etiology and epidemiology of skin lesions in Belugas.
Émilie L. Couture, Veterinary Resident
Research Topic: Anesthesia of gray seals for branding.
"Characterization of orthoreovirus isolated from incidents of wild bird mortality in eastern Canada"
"Epidemiology of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease."