Human-wildlife disease transmission has become an emerging concern due to the alarming surge in spillover events. However, there is less focus on pathogen spillover in marine environments. Anthropogenic activities such as the influx of contaminated medical waste and improper wastewater management have degraded global ecosystems and rendered marine wildlife vulnerable to infectious diseases. Reduced genetic diversity and elevated levels of human disturbance currently threaten the California sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) population. As ecosystem engineers and sentinels of kelp forests, these apex aquatic predators are essential to the health and community composition of the marine ecosystem. Our research will understand the effects of pathogen spillover on California sea otters through generated data-driven models and ecological simulations. The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate crucial driving forces in California sea otter pathogen susceptibility on the individual level and gain insight into population resilience to a pathogen spillover event.
Alice is a Masters candidate in Conservation Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health. She expects to complete her studies in September 2021. Alice earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences at the University of California Davis. Alice worked as a research assistant in Sih Lab that focused on animal behavior and ecology. By studying the eco-evolutionary dynamics between black widows and brown widows, she learned how to examine behavioral variation, handle lab animals, and design mesocosm experimental setups. After her undergraduate career, Alice worked in the biotechnology industry as a Quality Control Analyst in Cepheid for one and a half years. As a molecular diagnostics company, Cepheid focused on developing systems and clinical tests for infectious diseases, genetics, and healthcare-associated infections. In March 2020, the company developed a rapid SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test to provide accessible COVID-19 testing. She is currently working with endangered wood turtles through a data analysis externship under Zoo New England.
Current Studies and Future Goals
When asked what she found most meaningful about her field of study, Alice responded with the following: “I appreciate how the interdisciplinary framework of Conservation Medicine incorporates the One Health Initiative to improve animal, human, and ecological health. Through coursework and independent research, I have been able to develop my interest in animal behavior and further understand its large-scale impact in wildlife conservation through endangered species recovery programs. From learning about field and lab techniques to the human dimensions of Conservation Medicine, I enjoy how multi-faceted and applicable my current field of study is. The concerning rise in zoonotic diseases and anthropogenic activities further reinforce how relevant and important our major is to develop sustainable solutions and advance global health."
When asked what interested her in becoming a TIE Fellow, Alice responded with the following: “I applied to the TIE program because of its collaborative efforts and multidisciplinary initiative to promote innovative research projects. Through encouraging students from all disciplines to participate, the TIE program fosters a collaborative environment to facilitate idea exchange and work towards environmental research with novel approaches. I believe the one-year fellowship will challenge me to build my skills in independent research and networking.
Alice's long-term goal is to pursue research that focuses on habitat preservation and endangered species recovery programs, and ecology conservation biology educational outreach programs, with an interest in California sea otters.
When not doing school work, Alice can be found drawing, reading, cross-stitching, folding origami, and swimming. She also enjoys exploring museums, parks, and aquariums.
Favorite food/drink: Noodle Soup, Orange Juice
Favorite movie/TV show: My Neighbor Totoro, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt