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Biology Seminar | Emily Ruhs, PhD | University of Chicago and The Field Museum, Chicago, IL | The impacts of energetic constraints on animal health and infection dynamics

Postdoctoral Research Scientist,The Field Museum of Natural History and University of Chicago.
Abstract: Animals go through a series of predictable stages, each with their own energetic constraints and stressors, throughout the course of an annual cycle. But how do animals cope or adjust their physiology during these periods and what are the consequences for health and disease? My research program takes an integrated approach towards understanding energetic-based trade-offs in flying vertebrates. The three questions I will aim to answer during my talk are, (1) what are the consequences of food unpredictability and workload on small passerine bird physiology, (2) are seasonal energetic constraints drivers of viral dynamics in fruit bats, and (3) what are the health consequences of viral exposure in fruit bats? In birds, I demonstrate that food unpredictability and, to a certain extent parental workload, forces trade-offs between short-term survival (fat gain) and future infection and fitness. In bats, I find evidence that a combination of energetic demands (e.g. lactation, dry season) and reproduction (e.g. hormonal shifts) are likely the ecological drivers of viral recrudescence. Additionally, in bats, there might be subtle morbidity effects associated with elevated numbers of past viral exposures. By utilizing both field and laboratory-based studies to assess flying vertebrate physiological responses we can gain insight into how animals will cope with ecological stressors which is essential in light of climate change and recent zoonotic spillover events.

Contact: Blythe Boquist