My research interests lie in evolutionary processes, especially the co-evolution of species in parasite-host interactions. Parasites - with their shorter generation time and therefore higher evolvability- prompt the hosts species to continuously counter their attacks with all behavioural and physiological means it has at hands. If a vector is involved in transmission, interactions get more complicated: the parasite has to overcome not only both the host and vector resistance, but also make sure that the vector (which most likely is a parasite in itself) is still fit enough to infect the host.
For my PhD-thesis I will study the bat - bat fly - bat malaria system. Bats are interesting creatures, not only because they're the only true flying mammals, but also because they seem to be the reservoir of many (very lethal) human diseases like Rabies, Ebola and Nipah virus. Whether bats really are overrepresented as a reservoir group or whether this bias is caused by the focus of the scientific community is still debated.
In the mean time bats also have to battle their own pathogens, among which several types of malaria. The bat malaria Polychromophilus murinus is distantly related to the human Plasmodium types though unlike Plasmodium only the gametocytes develop in the blood. P. murinus does not seem to put a big constraint on bat health, though this has never been really investigated. In fact, quite a lot is still unknown about this haemosporidian; scientific publications on the subject dried out in the late eighties.
What does seem to be certain is that the vector of P. murinus is Nycteribia kolenatii. This eyeless dipteran fly ironically lost its wings to be fully adapted to a parasitic life in the bat's fur. The only time the female (temporarely) leaves the bat is to give birth to a larva that immediately pupates. All Nycteribiidae, together with their winged sister group the Streblidae, are obligate bat parasites and very successfully so; they are more than three times as species-rich as compared to non-bat sister groups.
My thesis focusses on the bat fly N. kolenatii and its key role in the transmission of P. murinus between hosts, the Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentoni). The bat fly's behavioural responses should profoundly influence the malaria dynamics. I try to identify important factors (like host-status and vector fitness) influencing the vector behaviour.