Response to infections - mechanims and fitness-consequences
Currently, I hold a position as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Fran Bonier at Queen’s University. My work is aimed at understanding how parasitic infections change across life stages, and how different types of parasite interact with each other within a host infected with more than one kind of parasites, ultimately affecting its fitness and reproduction. To do so, I am experimentally medicating wild red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), a species well known for its high tolerance towards malaria, to treat their infections, and measure medication effects on fitness, behaviour and reproduction of adults as well as growth, physiology, immune function, and behaviour of their offspring. Overall, this research aims to understand how disease impact fitness and reproduction.
Collaborators: Dr. Fran Bonier (Queen’s University) and Dr. Ignacio T. Moore (Virginia Tech)
Duration of the project: 2016 - present
Proximate mechanisms regulating individuals' adaptations to droughts
My research focused on the proximate mechanisms that allow individuals to persist in transient environments. Particularly, I examined how hormones, energy availability (measured as RMR using respirometry) and serum biochemistry parameters are regulated during periods of resources abundance and scarcity, and how ultimately they affect behavior, health, fitness and survival. The overall aim of this project was to understand how species can adapt in the face of increasingly erratic environmental conditions. To achieve my goals I spend several months at a time in the field in Africa and looked at how a non-desert specialist species, such as the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), copes when the conditions in its environment are predictable (e.g. seasonal) and unpredictable (e.g. duration of dry season). Overall, the results of this research gave us important insights for our understanding of the effect of climate change on species adaptability.
Collaborators: Prof. Neville Pillay (University of the Witwatersrand) and Dr. Carsten Schradin (CNRS, University of Strasbourg)
Duration of the project: 2013-2015
Environmental Causes and Physiological Consequences of Social Flexibility
For my doctoral degree I studied the proximate mechanisms and ultimate reasons that lead to the formation of alternative mating systems. I was particularly interested in testing whether ecological constraints, such as high population density would lead to individuals choosing to live in groups, while reproductive competition would lead to individuals choosing to live solitarily. To do so, I used the socially flexible African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) and carried out multiple field experiments, where I manipulated local population density by removing entire groups of mice to create vacant territories for neighboring individuals to move into. To control for the effects of reproductive competition I carried out the experiments during the breeding and the non-breeding season. Because I was interested in the ultimate causes and proximate mechanisms of sociality my research took a multidisciplinary approach, which involved gathering behavioral, physiological and life-history data of individuals before, during and after a dispersal event. My PhD thesis has resulted in publications in high ranking journals, including the Journal of Animal Ecology and Hormones and Behavior; and, has been presented at internationally important conferences such as ISBE, Behavior and ASAB.
Collaborators: Dr. Carsten Schradin (CNRS, University of Strasbourg) and Prof. Barbara König (University of Zurich)
Project dates: 2008 - 2012
Tools for effectively surveying wild species and environmental enrichment of zoo animals
I undertook my MSc in Conservation a University College London. For my thesis I worked on an exploratory study of the application of camera trapping techniques, focusing on the relationship between camera trapping rates and the biology of large mammals of Thailand and Myanmar. This project was developed by working closely with Dr. Chris Carbone from the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo and Dr. Julian Thompson (UCL).
I had a keen interest in ecology and evolution since a young age. To pursue a career as an evolutionary biologist I moved alone at the age of 18 from Italy to the United Kingdom, where I studied for a BSc (Hon) in Zoology. My final year project aimed at testing the use of a novel dietary enrichment as a tool to enhance interactions in a pair of captive Maned Wolves (Chrysocion brachiurus) at London Zoo with the ultimate goal of boosting reproduction in this endangered species. This project was carried out under the supervision of Prof. John Gurnell (Queen Mary University of London).