Jos. J. Schall
Professor Emeritus of Biology
University of Vermont
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Jos. J. Schall joined the faculty of the University of Vermont in 1980, and retired to Emeritus status in June 2014. He received his BS from Penn State, the MS from the University of Rhode Island, and the Ph.D. from the University of Texas. His interests in graduate school were community ecology and geographic trends in species richness. He conducted field work in the diverse Cnemidophorus lizard asemblage in the desert of SW Texas. Some of this work was published with his mentor, Eric Pianka. Schall's interests then shifted to parasites, and he was awarded an NIH individual postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked with noted parasitologist John Simmons.

Since 1978 he has conducted a long-term study of the malaria parasites of lizards (in both the lizard and insect vector) at a site in northern California (UC's Hopland Research and Extension Center field station), and several Caribbean sites, including a long-term study on the tiny islands of Saba and St. Martin and the LTER site at El Verde in Puerto Rico. A team of researches at the University of Puerto Rico is now continuing that project, using in part the data generated during those early years of study. A study in Sierra Leone, west Africa, while productive, had to end because of civil war. His current work centers on the biology of another apicomplexan parasite, Monocystis of earthworms. In a break from studies on parasites, he worked with graduate students Denise Dearing and Steve Ressel on diet selection by herbivorous lizards on small Caribbean islands and with graduate student Diane (Cannon) Faile on the nesting behavior of the Pelagic Cormorant.

Schall has been honored by the University of Vermont with the two highest awards for teaching excellence, and the university's highest award for research excellence. His research was continuously funded for more than 30 years by the NSF, and by the Morris Animal Foundation for studies on avian malaria parasites. His work has resulted in more than 90 publications in major scientific journals. Although "retired" from active faculty duties, he continues his research and student mentoring.

Ellen Martinsen, Ph.D.
Research Associate
National Zoological Park, Washington
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Vermont
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Ellen Martinsen has been an avid ornithologist since the age of eight, when she began working with a local wildlife rehabilitation center. Ellen received her BS in Biology from the University of Vermont in 2000. After a few years working as an environmental educator, she returned to the university to pursue the Ph.D. and competed the degree in spring, 2009. While a graduate student she was named the outstanding Teaching Fellow of the year and was honored with the EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship for three years of research on malaria parasites. In August, 2008 Ellen was presented with the prestigious American Ornithologists Union Nellie Johnson Baroody Award for the outstanding student presentation at the joint bird biology meetings in Portland, OR. She then received both a prestigious National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with the avian malaria team at the National Zoo. While there she received a Morris Foundation research grant. She is now a collaborator on a large NSF-funded project on the birds of SE Asia, being the parasite expert on the project. Ellen divides her time between UVM where she is an Adjunct Professor and the National Zoo, and has rejoined the malaria laboratory here to do research and mentor students.

Ellen studies the biodiversity of avian malaria parasites of throughout the USA and several international sites (the photo shows her in the Dominican Republic with a friend). She combines study of morphological traits with modern molecular techniques and phylogenetic analysis. Ellen has sampled >4200 birds of over 230 species, and has sequenced hundreds of infections of Plasmodium, Parahemoproteus, Haemoproteus, and Leucocytozoon. The diversity of birds included in Ellen's study is thus very large. The data are analyzed to compare morphological vs. molecular definitions of taxa, to understand host range and possible host switching, and to define the true diversity of the parasites. Ellen also studies the overall evolutionary history of the malaria parasites, using multi-gene approaches.

Ellen's publication in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, presents a large phylogeny based on four genes from the parasites' three genomes. The result finds that major clades are associated with vector shifts into different dipteran families. Two other publications have appeared in Parasitology. The first (in collaboration with Ilan Paperna of Hebrew University) focuses on species concepts as applied to malaria parasites. Species identified by morphology are compared using genetic distance and phylogenetic analysis. The second asks if the current subgenera of malaria parasites are monophyletic groups. Another publication, in Journal of Wildlife Diseases presents a survey of the avian malaria parasites in California birds.

Ellen's most recent paper showed that Plasmodium, long thought to be absent from any mammal hosts in the Americas, and absent from any deer world-wide, is present in our White-Tailed Deer (WTD). She found two diverse lineages, probably two species, that infect WTD all over the eastern USA. The parasite is common in WTD, with prevalence reaching a quarter of the deer infected at some sites. Ellen was able to date the divergence of the two lineages to about the time the WTD evolved from its ancestor that had traveled to the Americas via the northern landbridge. This paper, in Science Advances caused something of a sensation, appearing in hundreds of news and science websites around the world. A short video on the study appeared on the popular science website IFL Science, and was viewed 1.5 million times over the next 24 hours!

Ellen's current research is on the malaria parasites of endangered birds and the diversity of parasites in the birds of Borneo.

Maryam Nouri Aiin
Graduate Student
University of Vermont
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Maryam received her MS degree in her native Iran, and then came to the University of Vermont for the Ph.D. in the laboratory of Dr. Josef Gorres in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. For her MS project, Maryam studied natural soil fungi and their role in as pathogens of an important agricultural pest insect, a stink bug. Her skills made her a great choice to work on the invasive Asian "jumping worms" that are causing serious problems in forests across the United States. Several species of these earthworms can reach very high densities in forest soils and essentially eliminate the natural understory. The jumping worms are very difficulty to identify, and impossible as eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles. Maryam has studied the ecology, distribution, and genetics of the earthworms, and now has developed a rapid molecular method for identifying them to species (even as eggs!), and has used the population genetics of the worms to understand their origin (Japan), genetic variation among sites, and reproductive biology. The goal of these studies is to control the spread of the jumping worms, so Maryam has developed methods to keep them in the laboratory, even through their life cycle, and is testing various biological control methods, such as fungi. These studies have been appearing in a variety of top journals (some are listed in the publications section of the web site).

The threat of the earthworms, as well as their various common names of "jumping worms", "snake worms" (both because of their very active behavior, and "spitting worms" (you don't want to know!), and their often very high densities in compost piles and even gardens, have led to lots of interest by the press. Thus, Maryam has been featured in a variety of sites, and even appeared in a nice color photograph in a story in the New York Times (see it here: PDF)

Maryam works in our lab because we study the parasites of the earthworms, so the connection made sense to help us understand the biology of the worms and how that information would connect to the transmission biology etc. She has become excellent in the methods of molecular population genetics and bar-coding in the lab.

When not working on her many projects, Maryam is an avid hiker, and is completely devoted to her pet parrot. She is also active in several graduate student groups on campus.

Alyssa Neuhaus
Graduate Student
University of Vermont
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Alyssa received her undergraduate degree in the UVM Biology Department, and while a Junior she sought out our Dr. Ellen Martinsen hoping to become involved in Ellen's research on conservation biology and parasites of birds. Ellen suggested Alyssa work on an endangered sparrow that nests in marshes that are often polluted with heavy metals, with a goal of understanding how mercury consumed by the sparrows may make them more prone to infection with a malaria parasite. That study was productive and is now in review at a major journal. Alyssa did so well in her major that the department was delighted to offer her a position in the graduate program. She has now moved onto a huge study of the malaria parasites of the common loon, an iconic species in the northern US and throughout Canada. Ellen was informed that these endangered birds were falling victim to a new pathogen that looked under the microscope to be a malaria parasite. Molecular studies confirmed this distressing result -- malaria had never been found in the loons before and it seems that the insect vector is now moving north with climate change. Alyssa soon became a master at the molecular methods and is surveying hundreds of loon samples from across the bird's range. Her goal is to understand the diversity and distribution of the parasites in the loons.

Alyssa is an avid outdoors woman, and the field work is particularly a pleasure. The picture of Alyssa above shows her with a baby loon -- she spent a summer (the first of many to come) at an isolated lake where she moved about by boat to keep track of loon nests, protect them from disturbance, and to watch for any sick loons (called "loafers" in birder lingo).