Tamara J. Cook Ph.D.
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My lab is currently focusing on taxonomic survey of eugregarine parasites of insects and includes problems of host-parasite relationships, eugregarine population and community structure and host specificity. Our primary field sites are in the Big Thicket of East Texas, although we include other sites (such as Belize and west Texas ) when time and money permit. Our projects use primarily use field survey and morphometrics analysis to identify taxic diversity and host range and to investigate patters of eugregarine infection across space and time.
Why a parasite survey?
There are over 1.7 million described species inhabiting the biosphere. Over 1 million of these are arthropods and one estimate suggests that there may be as many as 10-80 million arthropods remaining to be discovered. If one makes the conservative assumption that every free-living species is parasitized by at least one species of parasite, it becomes quite obvious that parasitism is the most common way of life on earth. In fact, 80% of the world's taxa are probably parasites. Thus, the need to document parasite biodiversity is as pressing as the need to document biological diversity among free-living organisms. My lab is involved in a collaborative project (with an entomologist [Dr. Jerry Cook, SHSU] and another parasitologist [Dr. Rich Clopton, Peru State College]) which begins to address this need by surveying the eugregarine parasites of aquatic insects in the Big Thicket biome located in East Texas . Collaborative projects, such as ours, between insect taxonomists and parasite taxonomists can provide more information on global biodiversity that either could alone.
But why the Big Thicket?
Around 150 years ago, the Big Thicket of East Texas covered an area of approximately 3.5 million acres. Today, there are about 35,000 protected acres with another small portion still intact, but privately owned. The reasons for the change in size are a combination of, the discovery of oil, timber harvest, agriculture and urbanization. From the standpoint of aquatic habitats, the conserved areas do not contain the entire watershed of any of the drainage basins in the original Big Thicket region. Therefore, the aquatic habitats in the protected areas can be potentially damaged from activities outside the protected areas' borders.
OTHER RESEARCH INTERESTS
Thelohania solenopsae (Microsporida: Thelohaniidae)
A second area of interest is in the ability of microsporidian parasites to regulate imported fire ant populations through mortality, reduced feeding and/or reduced fecundity Microsporidia are unicellular, obligate intracellular parasites. Projects have concentrated on determining the natural distribution of Thelohania solenopsae at 4 large National Guard training facilities, investigating the natural ecology of T. solenopsae infection in fire ants in the field, and investigating the effect this parasite has on fire ant colony founding and early colony development. Future projects could include investigating what effects, if any, this parasite has on fire ant foraging activity and competitive abilities.
Cellulolytic gut protists (Hypermastigida and Oxymodadia) of subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)
Although I have not worked in this area in a few years, I am interested in renewing research into the nature of the community organization and structuring mechanisms of the mutualistic, flagellated protists inhabiting the intestines of subterranean termites. I am primarily interested in three aspects of the termite-flagellate system: 1) influence of diet on flagellate community structure, 2) exploring the usefulness of termite specific differences in flagellate community structure as meaningful characters in termite identification and phylogenetic reconstruction, and 3) determining individual flagellate species roles' in cellulose digestion.