Resilience Theory & Modeling
The Resilience Theory & Modeling project will focus on the complex task of modeling the mechanisms contributing to disease resilience within and across spatial, temporal, and biological scales. The initial objectives of this project will be to (1) stimulate integrative discussions among scientists through weekly virtual seminars aimed at defining, measuring, and modeling resilience in biological systems, (2) begin development of a quantitative modeling framework that can be applied within and across RIBBiTR systems to uncover shared and unique mechanisms of resilience trajectories, and (3) address integrative research questions within RIBBiTR systems that will set the stage for informing field work and modeling efforts in future years of our Institute.
Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs)
Studies have shown that early research experiences increase student persistence in STEM fields. This is especially true for students from historically underrepresented groups. However, opportunities for students to gain research experiences are not widely accessible, even at the undergraduate level. Our training programs for undergraduate students will focus on providing early and authentic research experiences. We will use an established CURE model to create laboratory-learning environments that allow groups of undergraduate students to investigate original research questions that tie into our RIBBiTR research efforts on understanding amphibian resilience.
Occupancy & Abundance
A core goal of RIBBiTR is to determine whether, how, and why amphibian communities at the four RIBBiTR field sites are following different paths through multidimensional resilience space. To determine these trajectories empirically, we will conduct field surveys of amphibian and selected non-amphibian populations at all four field sites throughout the duration of the project. These surveys will be used directly as inputs into occupancy, N-mixture, and mark-recapture models that will estimate occupancy and abundance of these focal taxa at each site. Changes in occupancy and abundances will serve as primary data for measuring the recovery of host populations, recovery or reorganization of communities, and paths of each field system through resilience space.
Training Workshops (Graduate & Postdoc)
Integrating biology’s sub-disciplines will require training the next generation of biologists to work with the ever-growing body of data that is generated, interpreted, and shared, and preparing them to apply interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to confront global challenges. These aims are best addressed by boosting participation in cross-disciplinary research. Our main objective is to train young biologists (at the graduate student and postdoc levels) to thrive in increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary environments. Our workshops will focus on integrative training that spans molecular and cellular biology, physiology, ecology, evolution, data science, and modeling, and includes activities that galvanize students to work collaboratively.
Ecophysiology & Environmental Data
The Ecophysiology and Environmental Data project will use measures of amphibian thermal biology and environmental data to test how climate change will modulate disease dynamics in focal amphibian populations across our study sites. To do this, we will establish and deploy temperature and humidity loggers at each of our study systems, measure thermal heterogeneity at focal sites using thermal imagery, incorporate measures of amphibian body temperatures into field sampling, examine the effects of Bd infection on the thermal biology of captive species, etc. This work will improve predictions of the impact of disease on amphibian populations across their distributions by integrating measures of thermal physiology and geospatial mechanistic modeling under current and future climate scenarios.
Understanding the invasion dynamics of emerging infectious diseases is paramount to predicting their impact and continued spread, and understanding whether mechanisms of resilience are shared across study systems is essential for predicting which ecological and evolutionary processes are likely to contribute to recovery over different spatial, temporal, and biological scales. Our current understanding of the history of Bd-induced amphibian declines is based primarily on field observations of amphibian die-offs and associated Bd prevalence data via skin swabs. However, we recently developed a custom assay that provides Bd genotypes at hundreds of phylogenetically-informative genomic loci from those same skin swabs (Byrne et al. 2017). The large-scale comparison enabled by our Institute will provide a robust test of whether shared or unique mechanisms underlie amphibian recoveries from Bd.
The Immunology/AMPs project will use a variety of techniques to examine amphibian immune defenses. This will involve collecting amphibian skin peptide secretions and utilizing techniques such as MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, analysis of lymphocyte suppression by Bd strains, quantifying growth characteristics of Bd isolates, testing amphibian skin bacteria and fungi from Bd resistant populations for their ability to survive in mixtures of AMPs, etc. This work will contribute to answering our Institute’s core research questions.
The Microbiome project will coordinate the collection and analysis of microbial samples from all field sites and experiments to test hypotheses about the microbial mechanisms of disease resilience and integrate data, along with other sample types, for larger analyses across field sites and host species to help answer our Institute’s core research questions.
The Outreach project focuses on both K-12 and community-level outreach initiatives. The overall goals of the outreach activities are to contribute to training the next generation of integrative biologists, to share our science and objectives with a broad audience, and to help instill a sense of belonging in STEM to people from all backgrounds, making STEM more accessible to historically underrepresented groups.