2011 BioMaPS Projects



Student Fellows:   Jared Guthrie(Mathematics) and

                                  Shelby Blalock (Biology)

Faculty Advisors:  Dr.  Terry Derting (Biology) and

                                    Dr.  K. Renee Fister (Mathematics & Statistics)


Is there evidence of trade-offs in cognitive development and immunity in adult white-footed
mice (Peromyscus leucopus)?

Levels of parasitic infections and disease are positively correlated with the intelligence quotient
of humans.  The relationship may result from re-allocation of energy away from normal brain
development and toward energetically-expensive immune responses during early growth of
young children.  We questioned whether similar trade-offs in energy allocation occur in adults,
resulting in reduced brain function during incidences of disease or infection.  We tested the
hypothesis that there is no relationship between parasite burden, immunocompetence, and
cognitive ability using the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) as our model species.  We
live-trapped 26 adult mice.  Upon return to the laboratory we collected feces from each animal
and estimated the parasite burden from fecal egg counts.  We also collected blood samples and
measured red and white blood cell counts and hematocrit.  To evaluate immune function we
challenged the cell-mediated and humoral branches of the immune system.  Lastly, we used T-
maze tests of spatial memory to evaluate the cognitive function of each mouse.  Fourteen of the
26 mice were infected by parasites.  Preliminary analyses indicated that there were no significant
differences in measured variables between mice with and without a parasite load.  Our tentative
results suggest that cognitive function in adult mammals is not affected by parasitic infection. 
Parasitic infections may only be detrimental to the mammalian brain during the sensitive phase
of neurogenesis.




Student Fellows:  Morgan Geile  (Conservation Biology) and

                                  Jeffrey Young (Mathematics)

Faculty Advisors:  Dr. Howard Whiteman (Biology) and

                                   Dr. Chris Mecklin (Mathematics & Statistics)

The goal of this research is to better understand how organisms adapt to their environments.  We are specifically studying polyphenism, a type of phenotypic plasticity in which organisms become one or more "morphs" to types depending upon the environment that they experience.  Our research focuses on tiger salamanders, which produce a terrestrial, metamorphic adult and a fully aquatic, paedomorphic adult.  Using two decades of data from a high-elevation population of tiger salamanders in Colorado, we are constructing matrix models to better understand the population dynamics of the two morphs and the evolution costs and benefits of becoming one morph or another.



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