Assistant Professor of Biology Cynthia Downs presented an invited talk earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Raptor Research Foundation in Sacramento, Calif. The international conference was hosted by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory.
In “Integrating Ecological Immunology into Raptor Biology: Quantifying Individual Responses to Understand Population Health,” Downs discussed how quantifying immune function in wild animals would help improve our understanding of the dynamics and health of raptor populations.
She began by talking about a key component of population health – the factors that determine the abundance of disease in a population, namely the agent, the host and the environment. She then explained that understanding host physiology can lead to a better understanding of population health, individual responses to disease, individual differences in survival and reproduction, and how ecotoxins can alter the response of individuals.
As a case study, Downs presented early data from her ongoing study of Swainson’s hawks showing that immune function was positively correlated with territory quality. She also discussed the role of immune function data in population growth models to help inform management plans.