We are examining parasite diversity and distribution at multiple geographic scales. The hosts we study, bivalves and seagrasses, are model organisms for this work, because both groups include parasites with varying levels of host specificity, allowing us to examine the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms associated with a parasite’s ability to infect many different host species. Parasites are generally much smaller than their hosts, making them notoriously difficult to identify. Some of the larger metazoan parasites* can be viewed using a microscope. However, even most of these larger parasites require additional research tools for identification to species level. Thus, we primarily use DNA markers to identify parasites and examine their population genetic diversity* and structure. Some of the DNA tools we use include Sanger and high throughput sequencing* (454 and Illumina platforms), metabarcoding*, microsatellites*, and phylogenetics*.
Some of our work focuses on the parasites in bivalves living along the coasts of Panama, particularly those around the Panama Canal, a major hub for global shipping networks, because ships may contribute to the spread of parasites on a global scale. Another aspect of our research examines the parasite diversity associated with commercial ships to determine their contribution to parasite dispersal, invasion, and the on-going threat of emerging infectious diseases in the world’s oceans.
As part of this research, we are also examining the distribution and severity of the diseases caused by these parasites, which can range dramatically across geographic locations and hosts.
Molecular Data Leads to Surprising Discoveries about Oysters in Panamanian Waters. By Katrina Lohan and Monaca Noble. May 2015
KM Pagenkopp Lohan, KM Hill-Spanik, ME Torchin, M Aguirre-Macedo, RC Fleischer, & GM Ruiz (2016) Richness and Distribution of Tropical Oyster Parasites in Two Oceans. Parasitology, 143: 1119-1132.
KM Pagenkopp Lohan, RC Fleischer, KJ Carney, KK Holzer, & GM Ruiz (2016) Amplicon-based pyrosequencing reveals high diversity of protistan parasites iships’ ballast water: implications for biogeography and infectious diseases. Microbial Ecology, 71 (3): 530-542.
KM Pagenkopp Lohan, KM Hill-Spanik, ME Torchin, EE Strong, RC Fleischer, & GM Ruiz (2015) Molecular phylogenetics reveals first record and invasion of Saccostrea species in the Caribbean. Marine Biology, 162: 957–968.