Research

As a postdoc in the Civitello Lab at Emory University, I am developing research projects investigating the ecology of Schistosoma species (a group of disease-causing Trematode parasites) across spatial and temporal scales in Tanzania. I am especially interested in how environmental gradients and interspecific interactions may impact transmission potential within this neglected tropical disease system.

My previous work was in ornithology and avian malaria disease ecology. Scroll down to see projects and check out my Google Scholar page.

Determinants of avian malaria parasitism

The first step to understanding how biota will respond to global change is to document the diversity and biogeography of species. Despite being the most species-rich group of organisms on this planet, parasite diversity is grossly underestimated and undescribed. I designed my own Ph.D. study system to model the variation in diversity and infection rates of avian malaria parasites infecting a clade of Catharus thrushes across two ecological gradients and with host traits.

1. Starkloff, N.C., Turner, W.C., Fitzgerald, A.M., Oftedal, M.C., Martinsen, E., and Kirchman, J.J. (2021). Disentangling the effects of host relatedness and elevation on haemosporidian parasite turnover in a clade of songbirds. Ecosphere, 12(5), e03497.

2. Starkloff, N. C., Kirchman, J. J., Jones, A. W., Winger, B. M., Huang, Y. H., Pulgarín‐R, P. C., & Turner, W. C. Drivers of community turnover differ between avian hemoparasite genera along a North American latitudinal gradient. Ecology and Evolution, 10:5402-5415.

3. Pulgarín‐R, P. C., Gómez, C., Bayly, N. J., Bensch, S., FitzGerald, A. M., Starkloff, N., … & Skeen, H. (2019). Migratory birds as vehicles for parasite dispersal? Infection by avian haemosporidians over the year and throughout the range of a long‐distance migrant. Journal of Biogeography, 46(1), 83-96.

4. Starkloff, N.C., Kirchman, J.J., Sammons, M.A., Turner, W.C. (in prep). Geographic variation in malarial parasite and MHC diversity in a clade of Catharus thrushes.

Photo credit to Bill Hubick


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Parasite Co-infection

Catharus thrushes are infected by an incredibly diverse assemblage of avian malaria parasites, with individual birds hosting up to four lineages at a given time. We use a continental scale dataset in order to map co-infection dynamics. We are using computational techniques to model the contribution of climate, habitat, host species and phylogenetic similarity of parasites to the likelihood of co-infection by different parasite lineages.

Starkloff, N.C. & Galen, S. (in prep). Co-infection patterns of haemosporidian parasites across the parapatric range boundary of sister species of North American birds.

Illustration from Paperna et al. (2008). The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 56(2):211-243​.


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Avian demographics & phylogeography

1. Phylogeographic structure within high-latitude North American birds is likely shaped by a history of isolation in refugia during Pleistocene glaciations.  Combining genetic results with paleodistribution modeling, we propose that these species shared a single Pleistocene refugium south of the ice sheets in eastern North America. (Ralston, J., FitzGerald, A.M., Burg, T.M., Starkloff, N.C., Whitaker, D.M., Warkentin, I.G, Norris, D.R. and Kirchman, J.J. (2021). Comparative phylogeographic analysis suggests a shared history among eastern North American boreal forest birds. Ornithology, 138,1-16).

2. It is vital to understand how a species has already changed in response to climate and land use changes when predicting future impacts on species distributions. We used historical distributions of the Red-bellied Woodpecker to test the efficacy of species distribution models (FitzGerald, A. M., Starkloff, N. C., & Kirchman, J. J. (2018). Testing the predictive capabilities of ecological niche models: a case study examining Red‐bellied woodpeckers. Ecosphere, 9(12), e02496.)

Photo credit to Jeff Drake.


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Other Projects

Swart, E. M., Starkloff, N. C., Ypenburg, S., Ellers, J., van Straalen, N. M., & Koene, J. M. (2020). The effect of mating on female reproduction across hermaphroditic freshwater snails. Invertebrate Biology, 139(1), e12275.

Photo credit to Joris Koene.

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