AVIAN MALARIA RESEARCH
In collaboration with Dr William Feeney, I spent several weeks collecting data on the birds of eastern Australia, in his fieldsite by Lake Samsonvale. We would set up very fine, almost invisible, mist nets in the flight paths of birds, who would then get caught in the net when trying to fly through (without hurting themselves!). Once the birds were carefully extracted, we would take various measurements, such as wing and beak length. Then, we would delicately extract a blood sample and release the birds back into the wild.
Back in the lab in Oxford, these blood samples were analysed for avian malaria presence using a technique dubbed Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR for short). After sequencing any infections, the parasite prevalence data was analysed in the context of the ecological determinants of avian malaria. I collated various bits of environmental data and developed a new urbanisation index. Fundamentally, avian malaria prevalence increased with urbanisation (which isn't great news, but important to know). I’m working on making these measures more nuanced and will then be publishing this work!
Above: A map of where our bird blood samples from. The pie charts indicate the prevalence of different genera of avian malaria. BRI stands for Brisbane, the most urbanised site that we sampled from - it's interesting to see how high infection prevalence is compared to many of the other sites.
Above: A model (created through something called a generalised linear model using statistical analysis programe R) that shows that the proportion of infected individuals increases with urbanisation. Statistical tests showed that this is a significant finding, meaning this relationship is unlikely to to be down to chance. We're now working to improve the urbanisation index.
All photos taken by Annika Schlemm