CIE Seminar Series 2014 – The sexual transmission of pathogens in wild birds

Wouter van DongenSPEAKER: Dr Wouter van DongenApplied Ecology Research Group, Victoria University
DATE: Friday, 11th July 2014
LOCATION: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, Room T3.05
TIME: 2:00 pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, Room ka4.207 and Warrnambool Campus, Room G.1.01 (Percy Baxter LT)

ABSTRACT: Bacteria have profound consequences on the health and fitness of their animal hosts. Understanding how bacteria are acquired therefore has implications for both pure and applied science.

Sexual transmission is an often overlooked vector of both beneficial bacteria and pathogens. However, sexually-transmitted diseases have only been extensively studied in humans and domesticated animals. Research on wild species in their natural habitat is necessary to identify mechanisms of selection that shape the coevolutionary dynamics between STDs and their hosts. Unfortunately, STDs are difficult to study in wild populations and there is a lack of experimental studies that manipulate ejaculate transfer in nature.

In this seminar, I’ll discuss research where we have experimentally blocked ejaculate transfer in black-legged kittiwakes to identify sexually transmitted bacteria and explore their effects on hosts. I will provide evidence for the sexual transmission of a species of Corynebacterium, which appears to affect both the condition and fitness of kittiwakes.

BIO: I am currently a research fellow at Victoria University. My research interests include behavioural ecology, microbial ornithology and conservation biology. I completed my PhD at the University of Melbourne in 2006, where I studied the function of multiple sexual signals in golden whistlers.

I then moved to the University of Chile, where I completed two postdocs on geographic variation in animal personalities and the conservation of an endangered Chilean hummingbird.

In 2010, I commenced a postdoc at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology in Vienna, Austria where my research focussed on host-microbiota interactions in wild birds, with a special focus on the sexual transmission of bacteria.

My current research focusses on understanding how genetic and environmental factors affect flight-initiation distances in birds.

For enquiries and appointments with the guest speaker, please email Mike Weston.