Understanding the complexities of natural systems requires multifactorial approaches and interdisciplinary collaborations.  One of the key interactions is between biology and mathematics, where empirical parameters from controlled experiments can be integrated into a mathematical framework to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how natural systems function. 

  • An invasive aquatic snail has been introduced into the Upper Mississippi River.
  • The snail not only disrupts native communities but also transmits parasites that kill thousands of migrating waterfowl per year.
  • Unfortunately, little is known about the factors that are responsible for snail and parasite persistence and what the consequences of continued disease outbreaks may be for this interaction in the future.

The complex interactions inherent in this system make it ideal for interdisciplinary investigation.  Furthermore, the fact that the system is made up of multiple stages will allow student teams to

  • investigate distinct interactions within the system, and
  • contribute these findings to predictive models aimed at understanding the entire relationship within the Mississippi River.

Each student project will include a field/experimental component and a modeling component, which together, will begin to fill the gaps in our overall understanding of species invasions in general, and the snail-parasite system in particular. Moreover, outcomes from student-generated projects will likely help regional scientists and managers (US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife) develop strategies for controlling snail and parasite invasions.

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Partial support for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation's UBM program under Award No. 1029041. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.