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Monday, October 8, 2018

UIUC Actuarial Science major runs simulations to predict host infections in bird populations of the Hawaiian archipelago during KU REU

Megan Resurreccion
     Last spring, Megan Resurreccion met with her informatics adviser at the University of Illinois Urbanna-Champaign (UIUC) to discuss going to graduate school. During this meeting, she was encouraged to obtain research experience, so she decided to apply to a summer research experience for undergraduates program (REU). Megan specifically wanted a research experience that offered any kind of mathematical or statistical focus. In making her decision for where to apply, she commented, “Biology isn't normally my thing, but I wanted to see what computational work in that field was like.” Her search led her to a mathematical modeling project offered through the 2018 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) summer REU program at the University of Kansas (KU) and supervised by Dr. Folashade B. Agusto, Assistant Professor in the EEB department at KU and part of the research team for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas.
Her poster describing her study and results 
    Megan titled this project, Effects of Breeding Phenology on Avian Malaria Transmission Model. She described her research and her findings as follows: “In the Hawaiian archipelago, there is an infectious disease called avian malaria which has been affecting many native Hawaiian birds, transmitted by southern house mosquitoes. Simulations were run in Matlab to predict what total host infection rates of a bird species was based on differing breeding phenology (seasonality). The breeding phenology refers to the various times of year that the birds and mosquitoes had their breeding seasons in, so a single bird peak breeding season was estimated and compared with five other mosquito peak breeding seasons. The temporal distance between a mosquito breeding season and bird breeding season was then used to predict the infection rate. This was also tested in terms of low and high elevation since infection rates have been known to differ at various levels. The results concluded that when the mosquito breeding season was later than the bird breeding season, total host infection rates were higher. Then a simulation for differences in low and high elevations were run. For low elevations, total host infection rates were at their highest regardless of breeding phenology but were highest when the mosquito breeding season was before the bird breeding season. For high elevations, total host infection rates were highest when the mosquito breeding season was later than the bird breeding season. The importance of this is that it's important to preserve the biodiversity of the Hawaiian archipelago, and conservation measures should be implemented depending on when total host infection rates were. Our findings indicate a higher rate of total host infection at lower elevations than at higher elevations. Additionally, total host infection rates are higher when vector breeding season peaks occur after the breeding season peaks of native Hawaiian birds. Conclusively, based on the breeding season peak phenology, there should be measures taken to protect Hawaiian bird species since avian malaria is a prominent reason for population decline in these birds. If not, the population decline and potential extinction of bird species can have drastic effects on the biodiversity of the Hawaiian archipelago.”
     Megan said the best part of the summer research experience was “getting to know the undergraduates, learning what their research was about, and what kind of possibilities for research are out there, even if it isn't something I tend to explore more in depth.” She added that she also learned what it takes to conduct research such as “reading up on related literature, writing up a paper, running trials, fixing errors” and working in a lab.
     Currently, Megan is a student at the UIUC majoring in actuarial science and minoring in mathematical statistics, informatics, and creative writing. She also works as a Resident Advisor in University Housing at UIUC. In addition to her studies and work, Megan is a member of the Actuarial Science Club and is looking forward to serving as a Mathematics Ambassador for the UIUC Department of Mathematics. As for her future plans, Megan would like to attend graduate school for a masters or Ph.D. in statistics, and eventually pursue a career in the realm of statistics and data science.

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