Parasites and pathogens (e.g. virus, bacteria) are an integral part of ecosystems and approximately 40% of all show, at least temporarily, a parasitic lifestyle. Abiotic and biotic changes influence their diversity, distribution and abundance, but also those of their vectors and reservoir hosts. The direct and indirect consequences for the health of humans and animals may have dramatic medical, ecological and economic impacts. To address these problems, we study the population dynamics, ecology, life cycles and transmission mechanisms of medically relevant organisms using a broad spectrum of methods, from specimen-based taxonomy (morphological and genetic characterization, including genomes and metagenomes) to advanced approaches of phylogeography and niche modelling.
Reflecting the highly divergent state of current knowledge on the global diversity of medically important organisms, key topics of our research in the department include, among others:
(a) the identification and description of new and emerging pathogens, protozoan and metazoan parasites, vectors and reservoir hosts and their present distribution,
(b) the phenotypic and genetic evolution of their dispersal capabilities and climatic tolerance
(c) the investigation of factors for pathogenicity, vector and intermediate host competence, both in laboratory experiments and in the field,
(d) risk assessments and predictive modelling of vector and pathogen distribution under global and regional models of climate change.
The fundamental and applied research of our department will help inform public health planners and the general public on aspects of control, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, parasites and other pathogens caused or transmitted by animals.