I am interested in the evolutionary ecology of (a) cooperative behaviour and (b) host-pathogen (or parasite) relationships. At the intersection of these broad themes are those situations where cooperative activities undertaken by either pathogens or their hosts impact on the fitness of the other, and thus influence the outcome of an infection. My work aims to broaden our understanding these situations.
Previously, I studied the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of cooperative breeding in vertebrates (meerkats, mole-rats, hornbills), and have also investigated cooperative behaviour among humans in experimental economic situations. For my PhD, I shifted focus to study forms of cooperation that occur within populations of bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa). This opportunistic pathogen engages in various social activities, many of which are important in the context of infections.
At present, I am working with other members of the Wedekind group to develop a bacteria / fish-egg infection model in which to test ideas about how cooperation and cheating among pathogens can influence the evolution of virulence. At the same time, we will investigate how host factors (genetic, maternal) and environmental factors (e.g. temperature, wild vs. captive) can also affect the severity of an infection.