Graduate STEM Fellow Profile

Daniel Preston

Project Title: Project Extremes
Thesis: Ecological Consequences of Disease and Invasions in Freshwaters
College/University: University of Colorado Boulder
Research Advisor: Pieter Johnson
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Department: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Research Focus: Disease ecology, food web ecology, biological invasions
Teaching Partner(s): Mark Bauer, David Mohseni, Cindy Monett, Donna Casey

Description of Research

My research interests focus on using amphibians and their pathogens to understand the ecological roles of disease in nature. Various diseases have been linked to global amphibian declines, making research in this area applicable to both conservation and theoretical concepts in disease ecology. Amphibians are hosts to a diverse group of parasites, including trematode worms. Trematode parasites and their hosts present a promising model for addressing questions in disease ecology, in part because they directly or indirectly influence many interactions within an ecosystem. Trematodes require multiple host species to complete their life cycle; in freshwater systems they often infect a snail, an amphibian and then a predatory bird or mammal. I am utilizing a combination of field studies and lab and mesocosm experiments to study how parasites influence community- and ecosystem-level processes. I currently have research underway to investigate the roles of parasites in species interactions, food webs, ecosystem energetics and nutrient cycling. My research primarily takes place in northern California, where there are rich communities of hosts and parasites to work with.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience

The elementary school where I work is fortunate to have a restored wetland on the school property. I have utilized this wetland and its inhabitants during lessons on aquatic biodiversity, adaptations, and food webs. For example, students have collected invertebrates from the wetlands, which they identified and used to learn about form and function in animals. We then generated a species list for the wetland and constructed food webs that displayed trophic relationships. I have also implemented lessons on parasitism, that incorporated live parasites that students were able to observe using microscopy. This was complemented by a field trip to my laboratory, where students were further exposed to parasites (figuratively) and learned about their hosts, life cycles and ecological interactions.