At the broadest level, my interests are public health and conservation biology.
I use multidisciplinary approaches (including molecular, serological, quantitative and phylogenetic techniques) to address how infectious diseases are maintained within their hosts and how the process of emergence occurs. More generally, I am interested in how ecological degradation and anthropogenic changes lead to increased pathogen emergence in humans and animals and how multi-disciplinary research can work to improve human and ecological health.
I am currently Associate Professor in Veterinary Public Health and Co-Director of the Molecular Epidemiology and Public Health Laboratory (mEpiLab) at Massey University, New Zealand. mEpiLab is a large, multidisciplinary group initiated by Prof. Nigel French. With the EpiCentre, the group forms an OIE Collaborating Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health.
Prior to Massey, I was a Society of Conservation Biology David H Smith fellow, funded by the Cedar Tree Foundation. For my fellowship project I began modeling the infection dynamics of White-nose syndrome, which is causing the precipitous decline of North American bats, to determine which host and pathogen traits lead to disease and population declines. This was under the academic mentorship of Dr. Colleen Webb at Colorado State University (CSU) and Dr. Juliet Pulliam at the University of Florida, and in partnership with Dr. Paul Cryan of the U.S. Geological Survey. This work formed the basis of a major US grant with collaborators from Wildlife Conservation Society, Texas Tech University, Conservation Science Partners, and Montana State University.
My Smith project developed through my time as a visiting post-doctoral researcher in Colleen's lab at CSU. This post-doctoral position came to be because we collaborate through a DHS/NIH funded Research and Policy for Infectious Disease Dynamics (RAPIDD) small mammal disease working group, which started while I was a Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellow at University of Cambridge, UK. This working group continues to be a successful collaboration and is an exciting group to be a part of. We aim to understand the underlying mechanisms of infection persistence within reservoir host populations and what leads to cross-species transmission.
My Wellcome Trust funded research project was on zoonotic pathogen ecology in wildlife, focusing on African fruit bats and their infections. This bat project started in 2007, when I won a Cambridge Infectious Diseases Consortium fellowship at Cambridge and this work is what lead to the collaboration through RAPIDD.
Throughout my time at Cambridge I worked with Prof. James Wood and Dr. Olivier Restif, along with Prof. Andrew Cunningham and Dr. Marcus Rowcliffe, at the Institute of Zoology, London, and Prof. Tony Fooks at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), UK. I conducted all laboratory work in the BSL3/SAPO 4 facilities in Tony's Wildlife Zoonoses and Vector-borne Diseases Group and WHO international reference centre for rabies. This work led to long term collaborations in Ghana and with international laboratories and research groups.
Prior to all this, I worked as a clinical veterinary surgeon with a broad range of domestic and wild animals, and have experience of investigating and managing disease in a number of critically endangered and flagship species. These experiences are what lead me to gain my MSc in Conservation Biology from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, UK.
Lastly, my wife and I launched a charity, MentorEd, with a friend that aim to boost confidence and achievement in the most disadvantaged kids in NZ. Please check out the website to read more about it at MentorEd.
Associate Professor in Veterinary Public Health, Massey University, New Zealand
David H Smith Fellow, Colorado State University, USA
Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellow, Cambridge University, UK
PhD, Cambridge University, UK
MSc, University of Kent, UK
BVM&S, University of Edinburgh, UK