Carrie De Jesus, PhD Candidate
Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida
Supervisor: co-advised by Sam Wisely, PhD and Greg Glass, PhD
Project 3: Ecological and insecticide-resistance models of tick vectors in Florida
Aim 2: Distribution, prevalence, and risk of tick-borne pathogens
Carrie De Jesus is a PhD candidate in the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at University of Florida (UF). Carrie completed her Bachelors in Biology specializing in ecology at California State University, Fullerton. She then worked as technician studying West Nile Virus in the Sierra foothills trapping mosquitoes, before joining San Diego Mosquito Control as a technician learning about mosquito control methods. Carrie’s interest for mosquitoes continued into her Masters in Entomology at North Carolina State studying the spermathecae of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. After her Masters, Carrie was a biologist researching in the Virgin Islands when the Zika Outbreak occurred when she heard of the PhD student position at UF working for the Southeastern Center of Excellence in Vector Borne diseases.
When Carrie joined the center she switched her study focus from mosquitoes to ticks studying distribution, prevalence, and risk of tick-borne pathogens. Dr. Greg Glass’s research team has been collecting ticks across Florida for years and Carrie’s initial project was to test these ticks for pathogens. The results of that study can be found in a recent publication: click here!
Carrie’s research has also included studying the ecological dynamics between ticks and lizards. In the Northeastern region of the United States there is a high prevalence of Lyme disease, and hosts such as the white-footed mouse are attributed to being reservoir hosts of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. In the Southeast the host composition for the ticks that spread the causative agent of Lyme disease is very different. Especially in Florida, there are a lot of lizards. Carrie’s dissertation research focuses on lizards as potential hosts of ticks and how that relates to risk of Lyme disease in Florida. Carrie went through approximately 12,000 herpetological specimens to find ticks on reptiles in the Florida Museum of Natural History. These tick samples were used to update a model by Dr. Greg Glass that predicts the distribution of Ixodes scapularis the blacklegged tick (known vector of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease). The museum specimens aided in providing raw data in southern Florida, where ticks were predicted to be but few were collected. Carrie even found ticks on lizard specimens from before 1920! Now Carrie’s research is looking at different lizard species as potential reservoir hosts of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). To watch a video describing this research: click here!
The museum specimens also contained a variety of nonnative herpetological specimens with ticks, which Carrie is further studying to potentially identify a source of tick introduction to new areas. Florida is home to a variety of invasive species that could serve as tick hosts and may introduce new species of ticks through illegal pet trade.
Ticks attached to lizards from Carrie’s research
This summer Carrie and her team of research assistants are sampling lizards in targeted areas of Florida. Their goal is to capture lizards, remove any tick, and collect blood and tissue samples. With this information Carrie will be able to gain a better understanding of the potential role of lizards in the Lyme disease cycle of Florida. Carrie and her team plan to start a Blog of their adventures so stay tuned to see what they find!
Carrie has also been involved with a variety of outreach including tick information cards. These cards are freely available and can be found here: click here. Carrie gave a talk at the Society of Vector Ecology last fall in Puerto Rico titled “Prevalence of Ixodid Ticks on Reptile Hosts in Florida.” She is also expected to get an invited talk at the Entomological Society of America Mitey Women Symposium this fall.