A national team of researchers that includes The University of Alabama will examine whether frogs’ ability to survive certain infections helps enhance understanding of human responses.
A new research partnership funded by the National Science Foundation will examine resilience demonstrated by amphibians and other groups of species to emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, along with other human-caused changes to the global ecosystem. The team will investigate what has allowed amphibians to bounce back after disease outbreaks in some regions, using this group of species as a model for understanding how resilience comes about in other living systems.
UA is receiving about $1 million from the National Science Foundation as part of the Resilience Institute Bridging Biological Training and Research, or RIBBiTR, that will be led by the University of Pittsburgh and includes nine other universities across the country. Dr. Gui Becker, UA assistant professor of biological sciences, is leading UA’s role in the institute.
“The institute’s activities will advance our understanding of resilience by developing a novel framework and applying it to emerging infectious diseases, a key global change threat to biodiversity and human health,” Becker said. “Paramount to predicting the future of biodiversity is understanding whether and how individuals, populations and communities are resilient to anthropogenic stressors.”
The proposed resilience framework will be important for understanding and predicting the capacity of biological systems to recover from global change, which will fill a void in advancing understanding of biological resilience, Becker said.
Becker’s research includes understanding diseases that affect amphibians and is part of his lab’s goal of diagnosing patterns of biodiversity threats and loss. On this project, The Becker Lab will lead field work in Brazil, one of four sites in the project, and conduct experiments to advance understanding of vertebrate community resilience to emerging diseases.
The institute is part of the NSF’s strategy to create large research teams across disciplines and regions to investigate “rules of life” principles — fundamental life processes ranging from biomes to the Earth. This initiative aims to focus on resilience as one such “rule,” applying what is learned about the amphibians’ recovery from a newly emerged fungus to understand how other living systems can bounce back from global change stressors.
“The institute’s activities will showcase the power of an integrative, team science approach for addressing some of the biggest and most challenging questions in biology,” Becker said. The proposed research, which explicitly integrates approaches from across disciplines in biology, will demonstrate the power of integrative biology for understanding resilience.”
Dr. Corinne Richards-Zawacki, professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Pitt, is leading the work and said global data already collected on amphibians who survived initial disease outbreaks are perfect for this study.
“Amphibians’ skins and secretions can have medicinal properties,” she said. “They are also canaries in the coal mine for environmental impacts, partly because they have thin skin and are exposed to contaminants both in water and on land, so they share threats with other organisms.”
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