Sarah Jobbins

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wildlife Disease and Conservation

Research Summary:

Dr. Jobbins joined the Alexander Wildlife Health and Disease Laboratory in fall 2011. She completed her doctorate in Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney in 2010, with a research focus on marsupial immunology and immunogenetics, as well as host-pathogen interactions between koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) and the deadly fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii. Her previous research involved the creation of a microsatellite fingerprinting system for the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), with applications for captive management as well as translocation and reintroduction of this highly endangered species back into the wild.

Dr. Jobbins’ research interests include conservation biology, wildlife health, zoonoses, public health and disease ecology, in particular pathogen transmission at the human-wildlife interface. She divides her time between the Alexander Wildlife Health and Disease Laboratory at Virginia Tech (USA) and the Center for African Resources: Animals, Communities and Land use (CARACAL) in Botswana. Dr. Jobbins is currently working on several research projects, including an assessment of the prevalence of the zoonotic pathogen Leptospira spp. in wildlife and humans living in and around Chobe National Park, and an investigation of the impacts of anthropogenic landscape change on genetic diversity of banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) and African wild dogs. She is also working with Dr. Alexander on her NSF-funded project examining linkages between human and animal populations and how they influence water quality and microorganism transmission in the Chobe River Region of northern Botswana.


Claire Sanderson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wildlife Disease and Conservation

Research Summary:

Claire Sanderson joined Dr. Alexander’s lab in September 2011 as a postdoctoral research fellow. She earned her PhD in Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. Her work focused on the intersection of infectious disease, genomics, and immune gene diversity in the study of marsupials and monotremes. She has worked on diverse host-pathogen systems from DFTD in the Tasmanian devil to Mucormycosis in the platypus. Following her PhD, she moved to South Africa where she was a senior research assistant for the University of Zurich studying the behavioural ecology of slender mongooses and meerkats in the Kalahari Desert.

Her current research in Dr. Alexander's lab is directed at exploring behavior influences on host-pathogen interactions using the banded mongoose and the emergence of Mycobacterium mungi, a novel strain of tuberculosis. Dr. Sanderson also studies the role of Allee effects in social carnivore populations, the role of group size on functional gene diversity in African wild dogs and is currently working on Dr. Alexander’s NSF-funded project exploring the transmission dynamics of microorganisms between human and wildlife populations, and how this influences water quality in the Chobe region of Botswana.Her research interests broadly encompass behavioural ecology, disease ecology, conservation biology and population genetics. 



John Tyler Fox

PhD Student, Wildlife Conservation

Research Summary:

John Tyler Fox joined Dr. Alexander’s lab in fall 2012 to begin his Ph.D. researching water quality and health in Botswana. He earned his B.A. in Biology from the University of Maine at Farmington, with a research focus on potential correlates between lichen diversity and human health in Maine, and his M.S. in Biology from the University of Central Arkansas, investigating the impacts of agricultural chemicals on cave stream water quality in a large karst watershed in southeastern Missouri. Most recently, Tyler has been part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at Michigan State University, modeling long-term groundwater sustainability in relation to coupled landscape, atmospheric and socioeconomic systems (CLASS) in the High Plains Aquifer region of the United States. Tyler has worked with government and non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Eastern Europe on a number of biodiversity and habitat conservation, water quality, and resource sustainability projects. Tyler’s research focuses primarily on the nexus of human-landscape interactions in relation to environmental health, plant and animal biodiversity, and limited natural resource availability. He is particularly interested in how human behavior and cultural practices, in combination with environmental stochasticity, impact water quality and use, and human, animal, and environmental health.


Megan Holcomb

MS Student, Wildlife Conservation

Research Summary:

Megan joined the lab in Spring 2012 to begin her MS in Water Quality and Coupled Human – Environmental Systems. She earned a BS in Environmental Science with a water resource focus at The Ohio State University. Megan is interested in the emerging discipline of ecohydrology to better address the changing and practical needs for water resource management. Advancements in hydrological modeling have the potential to affect the livelihood of communities and entire countries currently facing increased water stress around the world. Understanding how local hydrologic systems interact with biogeochemical cycles and determine the fate and transport of pollutants are both critical to improving and sustaining ecosystem health. 

In summer 2011, Megan traveled with Dr. Alexander’s research team to the Chobe River Region of Botswana. She worked with hydrological models and collect field data to contribute to a multidisciplinary project that aims to improve our understanding of the connection between water quality and regional human and animal health. As population growth and development increasingly alter the chemistry and hydrology of water systems, a need for coherent and reliable water management tools also grows.


Kuruthumu Mwamende

PhD Student, Wildlife Conservation

Research Summary:

My research at Virginia Tech will focus on evaluating foraging behavior and habitat use of Sanje mangabey (Cercocebus sanjei) and yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) to identify effects of forest fragmentation and habitat change on foraging behavior, gastrointestinal parasite loads, maize (Zea mays ) raiding by these species, and the impact on food security. I am particularly interested in understanding the impacts of food resource abundance and habitat fragmentation on dynamics of foraging behavior and parasite prevalence to and evaluate feeding strategies that shape the species use of their habitat. The project will document maize damage and raiding; crop damage by primates in Tanzania has proved to exceed the damage by elephants and insects, thus threatening human food security. Further, as food security is increasingly becoming a global issue linked to development, environment and trade, and highly affected by current changes in the climate, the project will also investigate the links between crop production, damage by wildlife and food security by assessing ‘on farm’ and ‘on storage’ maize damage by baboons and mangabeys, their impacts on production and food security, and evaluate climate change adaptations mechanisms in the areas. The study will be conducted in the nearby Parks of Udzungwa and Mikumi in Tanzania. I will use a combination of direct observations of animals to record their use of the habitat and surrounding farms and noninvasive fecal sampling to identify parasite infestations and influences of raiding on parasite loads. Social network analyses will be applied to investigate how social contact may influence parasite transmission or antibiotic resistance for both species among ‘raiding and non raiding groups and social survey interviews will be done to learn about adaptation mechanisms. The projects aims to contribute to the overall goal of the USAID ‘Feed the future’ program which is under the umbrella of Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI)

Research & Extension Interests

Plant-animal interactions and wildlife damage issues.

Physiological and behavioral ecology of threatened and endangered species.

Spatial structure and social organization of primates especially mangabeys & baboons

Applications of Geographic Information Systems for biodiversity research &conservation

Human-wildlife socio-economic dimensions interactions in conservation.

Climate change impacts on rangeland and forest biodiversity.


Katty Battle

Katy Battle is an undergraduate research assistant in the Alexander Wildlife Health and Disease Ecology lab.  She has been affiliated with the lab since 2011 and is proud to assist its graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in their endeavors to meet the lab's needs and goals.  Her work includes performing PCR analyses, testing E. coli isolates for antibiotic resistance, preparing scat samples for analysis and cataloging both water and fecal samples obtained from Botswana.  She was fortunate to participate in Fralin's Undergraduate Research Fellowship during Summer 2012 under the guidance of Drs. Alexander and Jobbins where she conducted research on the prevalence of antibiotic resistance within African wildlife.