Pardon the pun, but Graham Goodman’s research on the behavioral defenses of birds against ectoparasites is just “so coo”! In 2018, Graham Goodman (PhD candidate, University of Utah) not only received an ASP Willis Reid Research grant, but also won an ASP meritorious paper award at the annual meeting in Cancún. We thought these achievements should be highlighted to our members, and asked Graham to share the results of his work stemming from the ASP research grant. You can also check out some of his work in a 2016 publication by Villa et al. in Biology Letters. But first, a little about Graham.
Graham first “fell in love” (I am quoting here!) with parasites after taking a course with Valerie McKenzie at the University of Colorado. Aspects of their behavior may have subconsciously rubbed off on him, as shortly thereafter, he hitched a ride to the Southwestern Association of Parasitologists’ meeting with Janice Moore’s laboratory from Colorado State University. He didn’t present at this regional meeting, but enjoyed the welcoming community of parasitologists.
Although he had not yet attended an ASP meeting, Graham perused the abstracts from the annual meetings to help him decide what area of research to pursue for graduate studies. The work presented by the Clayton-Bush lab at the 2012 ASP meetings in Richmond, VA was “so eggs-sighting” to him (pardon the pun again!). He was particularly attracted to the tractability of the pigeon/louse system for experimental work related to host-parasite interactions. Two years later he joined the lab! Since that time, Graham has attended two ASP meetings. In Cancún, he enjoyed practicing his Spanish and will never forget “pulpo”, the Spanish word for octopus, after talking to researchers about their work on the cestode communities of those hosts.
Without “feather ado”, Graham tells us a bit about his award-winning research.
1) What did you propose in your Willis Reid Student Research grant?
I study behavioral defenses against ectoparasites. One of the behaviors I am most interested in is allopreening which is when one bird preens another. In addition to helping control ectoparasites on regions that birds cannot self-preen, allopreening is thought to serve important social functions. Several studies show correlations between allopreening rates and ectoparasite loads, but it is unclear whether these correlations were being driven by the parasites or the behavior. For example, birds with lots of parasites might not be able to find a partner to allopreen them. I proposed to determine whether parasite load affected allopreening rates by collecting behavioral data on allopreening pairs of birds before and after infesting them with lice.
2) Is everything going to plan so far? Any surprises?
There were definitely some surprises, and I am writing the results up for publication. Before submitting my proposal, I conducted a small pilot with only a few pairs of birds. The preliminary results suggested that parasite load heavily influenced allopreening rates. However, when I scaled up the project, I got very different results. I found that parasite load did not have an immediate direct effect on allopreening rates. This project hammered home the importance of sample size.
3) Any tips for grant writing to ASP student members?
I would say persistence is important. Not receiving an award does not necessarily reflect poor quality research; it is important to keep trying. Continuing to apply can be hard, especially when there are other things that feel more pressing in the moment. But it is worth it. I did not receive this grant until my second or third attempt.
4) How does this grant fit into the overall goals of your PhD work?
My thesis focuses on two anti-parasite behaviors: allopreening and scratching. This grant allowed me to dive deeper into the possible role of allopreening for controlling parasites in a way I would not have been able to otherwise. Allopreening is one of the few parasite control behaviors that birds cannot perform on their own. This, in turn, is interesting because it is possible that parasite control may have been a stepping-stone in the evolution of cooperation in birds and other animals.
5) Are you coming to the 2019 meeting in Rochester, MN? If so, what are you most looking forward to?
I will definitely attend the 2019 meeting in Rochester, MN. Janine promised lasers. In all seriousness, I am looking forward to hearing what all the other members have been up to since Cancún. There were a lot of great presentations and I look forward to seeing the new research.