9) Evaluating the transmission mode of a nematode parasite within horned passalus beetles, Odontotaenius disjunctus

Horned passalus beetles live in decaying logs, where they excavate cavities for rearing young. They are commonly parasitized by a nematode, Chondronema passali

Mentor: Dr. Andy Davis
Abstract: Horned passalus beetles are a common forest insect in the eastern United States, and are host to a variety of naturally-occurring parasites, including a nematode that lives in the abdomen (Chondronema passali). Beetles can be heavily parasitized, sometimes with thousands of these worms, though there are many questions about how these nematodes transmit to other beetles. Ongoing work in the Davis lab has sought to determine the impact of these parasites to the host physiology and behavior. Recent projects have revealed how female beetles can be affected more so than males, including influencing their willingness to explore. This implies that the nematode could be causing a behavioral change to its host, to promote its own transmission during oviposition activities. This will be the focal question that will be explored in summer 2023.
A student will be tasked with conducting one or more lab-based experiments designed to help elucidate this question. This will include collecting beetles from local forests, housing them in the lab, overseeing behavioral experiments, and performing dissections to determine parasite loads. The details of the projects will be fleshed out when the program starts.
The ideal student for this project is someone who is interested in insects, animal behavior, parasites, and who is completely fine with looking for icky, squiggly worms in soil samples or within beetle carcasses.
Is the project computational, empirical, or both? Empirical.