Tales from the Crypt: a parasitoid manipulates the behaviour of its parasite host

I have a new paper out with Dr. Scott Egan, Dr. Andrew Forbes, and Sean Liu! The paper is Open Access in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Here is the abstract:

There are many examples of apparent manipulation of host phenotype by parasites, yet few examples of hypermanipulation—where a phenotype-manipulating parasite is itself manipulated by a parasite. Moreover, few studies confirm manipulation is occurring by quantifying whether the host’s changed phenotype increases parasite fitness. Here we describe a novel case of hypermanipulation, in which the crypt gall wasp Bassettia pallida (a phenotypic manipulator of its tree host) is manipulated by the parasitoid crypt-keeper wasp Euderus set, and show that the host’s changed behaviour increases parasitoid fitness. Bassettia pallida parasitizes sand live oaks and induces the formation of a ‘crypt’ within developing stems. When parasitized by E. set, B. pallida adults excavate an emergence hole in the crypt wall, plug the hole with their head and die. We show experimentally that this phenomenon benefits E. set, as E. set that need to excavate an emergence hole themselves are about three times more likely to die trapped in the crypt. In addition, we discuss museum and field data to explore the distribution of the crypt-keeping phenomena.


Rice University’s videographer Brandon Martin made an awesome video about our study system:



The absolutely amazing french cartoonist Boulet graciously did artwork illustrating our study system. The study system is a bit complicated, since it’s wasps infecting wasps and it all gets a little hard to follow. Boulet’s artwork does a fantastic job of laying the system out clearly:


We were blown away by all of the press coverage of the article. Below are some highlights:

Featured in:

The Atlantic

National Geographic

BBC World


New Scientist (we made the front page!)

Rice University News

Popular Science


Live Science

The Daily Mail


The Scientist

CBS News


Postdoc with Dr. Ryan Hechinger (and me!)

We’re looking for a postdoc! See below!
Postdoctoral Opportunity with the Marine Biology Research Division at SIO
Postdoctoral Scholar – Employee
Academic Division: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Academic Department/Research Unit: Marine Biology Research Division
Disciplinary Specialty of Research: parasitology, physiology, behavior, fish, birds, ecology, estuaries
Description: The position will involve taking on a 1.5 year project in the Hechinger Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. The project is part of a larger, international project. Collaborators include Dr. Øyvind Øverli (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) and Dr. Kelly Weinersmith (Rice University). The overall project weds parasitology, ecology, behavior, neurobiology, and omics. This post-doc will examine the impacts on estuarine birds by Euhaplorchis californiensis, a trematode parasite. The parasite uses birds as final hosts, but effects there are countered to unknown extent by the parasites modifying the behavior of the birds’ prey, the California killifish, making them easier to catch.
The current plan is for the post-doc to be lead a laboratory study using controlled exposures of final hosts (birds, rodents) to document the parasite impacts on those hosts. Impacts will be measured at least by growth rates and, likely, metabolic rates (respirometry). The post-doc may also be involved with other aspects of the project, including a field experiment using fish in enclosures to quantify how fish infection changes bird predation rates and success.
Salary/Stipend Information: NIH standard & based on years of postdoc experience
Qualifications and preferred academic background: Candidates should possess some or all of these attributes (some of which, including parasitological skills, can be learned on the job):
1. Ability to handle, maintain, and dissect birds and rodents.
2. Ability to do respirometry on air breathing vertebrates.
3. Ability to dissect fish, birds, and rodents, and quantify parasite abundance and body size.
4. Have good communication, organizational, collaborative skills.
5 viagra quebec. Have solid analytical skills. At least a working knowledge of general and generalized linear models. Dynamical modelling skills are a plus, but not required.
6. Proven writing/publication skills as indicated by published papers.
7. Experience or ability to deal with live, wild estuarine birds.
Appointment Length/Period: Appointment will start as early as 1 August 2016 and continue for 1.5 years.
Application procedure: Send an email with subject header “POST-DOC APPLICATION”, with an attachment of a single PDF file that includes a cover letter, CV, statement of research interests, and contact information for three references to Dr. Hechinger at rhechinger@ucsd.edu.
Application Closing Date: 24 Jun 2016

My talk from the Future is Here Festival

Rick Karnesky and Rebecca Cohen from Nerd Nite East Bay invited me to give a talk at an event called The Future is Here Festival. The event was run by Nerd Nite and Smithsonian Magazine, and the second day of the event was the Nerd Nite Global Fest. There were a bunch of really amazing talks, and I feel very lucky to have had an opportunity to speak with this amazing group of people. Here is my talk from the event:

My interview on The Pseudoscientists Podcast

Jack Scanlan interviewed me for the latest episode of The Pseudoscientists Podcast! I was really excited to do this podcast. I’ve been following Jack on Twitter since he was an undergraduate student, and now he is wrapping up his Master’s degree. In those few years he has done more outreach than most people do in a lifetime, while clearly also spending a ton of time in the lab. The guy is a force of nature. He chatted with me about parasites for an hour, which is pretty much the best way to spend a Friday night.