Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dittmar presents: Evolution and Ecology of Bat Parasites

Dr. Katharina Dittmar

As part of the requirements of FOR496 Women in Environmental Careers, students share the responsibility of reporting on the presentations of the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions.  The following was prepared by Julia Hart and Becca Sheetz.

Ever wondered about the genetic variation in the microorganisms in ectoparasites of bats and what impact that has on people? Evolutionary Biologist Dr. Katharina Dittmar of SUNY Buffalo addressed this topic on March 5 on the SUNY ESF Syracuse Campus.
 Dr. Dittmar’s lecture focused on the three tiered interaction of blood feeding parasites of bats, bat flies and microbiota in the flies. These relationships that exist between these organisms were previously vastly under-researched. Her research focused on the phylogeny of the bat flies, microbiological communities and interactions, and horizontal gene transfer within microbiota in the bat flies.

Investigating the development of the pupal stages of the bat flies brings forth the ability to research how the flies develop their internal biota. This is important because it helps to determine the function of the bacteria within the bat fly’s system. This sheds light on how the bacteria are passed down between generations of the flies and help define interactions between bat flies, microbes and mammals.
SEM of Megistopoda, courtesy K. Dittmar

Understanding these functions is not only important for the echological contributions to science but also the human health aspect that goes along with these organisms (for example, when people talk about bats being causal agents of disease). It's hard to imagine these seemingly illusive mammals as significant vectors of disease, even though bats may carry different human pathogens. Dr. Dittmar’s research makes the transmission of the diseases in ectoparasites in bat flies relevant to us in not only a scientific way but also a far more intimate fashion.

Dr. Dittmar currently serves as the director if the Graduate program in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at SUNY Buffalo.  Her main focus is the evolutionary history of blood-feeding arthropod vectors, specifically the orders Diptera and Siphonaptera. She also collaborated with Prof. Joyce Hwang of the SUNY Buffalo Architecture Department on the “Bat Cloud”, which won the 2012 Animal Architecture Award In addition to her academic research, Dr. Dittmar teaches courses on Evolutionary Genetics; Medical Entomology and Parisology; Microbial Genomics; and a Colloquium in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.  She also collaborated with Prof. Joyce Hwang of the SUNY Buffalo Architecture Department on the “Bat Cloud”, which won the 2012 Animal Architecture Award. She holds a DVM, and was a practicing veterinarian prior to earning a PhD in Parasitology from the University of Leipzig.  She has completed postdocs in Ecology, Evolution, Systematics, and Population Biology at Bingham Young Unversity and the University of Wyoming.

Dr. Dittmar’s presentation was a joint presentation of the Adaptive Peaks and the Women andScientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series.  Her visit was sponsored by the ESF Women’s Caucus and the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology. 

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