February 17, 2014

Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife and their conservation challenges in the Neotropics

The third event in this year’s Environmental Lecture Series will be a presentation by Dr.Matt Venesky from Allegheny College.  That will be Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 pm in the Ronk Lecture Hall, COE. 

Venesky is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology at Allegheny College, Meadville, PA.  His research addresses questions about the ecology of infectious diseases
and has been studying amphibians and their parasites for almost a decade.

The river at Picinguaba Beach, SE Brazil, a collecting site for a current project on feeding biomechanics in tadpoles with colleagues from Brazil and Canada (photo credit: M. Venesky)
For this talk, Venesky will focus on what his research group has learned from their work on the Neotropics, with a focus on Panamanian frogs and aquatic ecosystems.
Infectious diseases of humans and wildlife are increasing at an unprecedented rate. Amphibians, in particular, have experienced an unrivaled loss of biodiversity with approximately one-third of species threatened with extinction. Although several factors contribute to amphibian declines, many declines and extinctions are linked to the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (“Bd”). The first Bd epidemic was documented in Latin America in 1998 and it resulted in the crash of the entire Panamanian amphibian community. Twenty five years later, Bd is still prevalent and poses challenges to amphibian conservation efforts in Latin America.

Venesky will discuss some of the outstanding research topics in this host-pathogen system as they relate to climate change, biodiversity, and acquired immunity. He will synthesize how answering these questions might be useful for managing Bd as well as other pathogenic fungi that have only recently been discovered.
Dr. Matt Venesky and Brazilian collaborator, Bokermannohyla hylax (photo credit: M. Venesky)
Venesky is a Pennsylvania native.  He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Memphis in 2011 and spent 2 ½ years at The University of South Florida as a Postdoctoral Research Associate. He is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Allegheny College in PA. His research has been supported by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation and he has published over 20 articles on amphibian biology/ecology, including recent articles in Nature Climate Change and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This year’s Environmental Lecture Series explores “Environmental and Human Health in Latin America,” with perspectives from experts in human ecology, policy, and scientific study related to specific environmental issues.