Iris Levin


Personal Webpage:


2005-2011: Ph.D., University of Missouri - St. Louis. Advisor: Patty Parker

2001-2005: B.A. Bowdoin College (Honors in Biology). Advisor: Dr. Nat Wheelwright

Research Interests:

I am interested in disease ecology and evolutionary biology, particularly in questions relating to how and when parasites move between different hosts. For my dissertation, I used a population genetics approach to understand host-parasite interactions in Galapagos seabirds and their parasites. One of the central questions in parasite biology is why we see such a range in host specificity and what parameters of the parasite, the host, or the interaction explain these patterns. Because many of the interactions between hosts and parasites are very tight associations, biologists have historically assumed that cospeciation was the most important factor shaping host-parasite assemblages; however, the more we learn about host-parasite relationships, the more we begin to understand that tight cospeciation is just one of many outcomes. One of the first steps in untangling the coevolutionary history behind these interacting players is to understand the genetic structure of the host and the parasite populations. Parasite-host congruence is affected by relative rates of host and parasite dispersal, host geographic distribution, and parasite host specificity. Host specificity of a parasite is determined in part by the ability of the parasite to disperse among host species, as well as the general ecology of the parasite (e.g., direct vs. indirect lifecycle). Finally, ecological factors that affect the distribution and abundance of both hosts and parasites will also influence the congruence between host and parasite population genetic structure. I explored these questions in Galapagos Island seabirds, particularly Great Frigatebirds (Fregata minor). These seabirds are parasitized by an obligate hippoboscid fly ectoparasite (Olfersia spinifera), which is the vector for a Haemosporidian parasite (Haemoproteus iwa). The Galapagos Islands have naturally replicated populations of closely associated bird hosts and parasites, providing a simplified system to explore community level dynamics underlying patterns of host specificity and population genetic structure of host-parasite assemblages. These types of comparative population studies are needed to help illuminate the microevolutionary processes that result in the macroevolutionary patterns such as cospeciation or host-switching. By comparing host (frigatebird) and parasite (hippoboscid fly) population genetic structure, we can begin to understand how parasites might be moving between individuals, throughout the archipelago, and between birds across their geographic range.


In Review:

  • Williams, H., Levin, I.I., Newman, A., Norris, R., Wheelwright, N.T. Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah Sparrow songs. In review, Animal Behaviour.

In Press:

  • Levin, I.I. and P.G. Parker. Philopatry drives genetic differentiation in an island archipelago: Comparative population genetics of Galapagos Nazca Boobies (Sula granti) and great frigatebirds (Fregata minor). In press, Ecology and Evolution.
  • Levin, I.I. and P.G. Parker. Prevalence of Haemoproteus iwa in Galapagos Great Frigatebirds (Fregata minor) and their obligate fly ectoparasite (Olfersia spinifera). In press, Journal of Parasitology.

Journal Articles:

  • Levin, I.I., Valkiunas G., Iezhova, T.A., O'Brien, S.L., and P.G. Parker. 2012. Novel Haemoproteus species (Haemosporida: Haemoproteidae) from the Swallow-Tailed Gull (Lariidae), with remarks on the host range of Hippoboscid-transmitted avian hemoproteids. Journal of Parasitology 98:847-854.
  • Levin, I.I., Valkiunas, G., Santiago-Alarcon, D., Cruz, L.L., Hailer, F., Iezhova, T., O'Brien, S., Dearborn, D., Schreiber, E.A., Fleischer, R.C., Ricklefs, R.E. and P.G. Parker. 2011. Hippoboscid-transmitted Haemoproteus parasites (Haemosporida) infect Galapagos Pelecaniform birds: Evidence from Molecular and morphological studies, with description of Haemoproteus iwa. International Journal for Parasitology 41:1019-1027. (With cover photo)
  • Hailer, F., Schreiber, E.A., Miller, J.M., Levin, I.I., Parker, P.P., Chesser, R.T., and IR.C. Fleischer. 2011. Long-term isolation of a highly mobile seabird on the Galapagos. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 278: 817-825. (Editor's choice in Science)
  • Valkiunas, G., Santiago-Alarcon, D., Levin, I.I., Iezhova, T.A. and P.G. Parker. 2010. Haemoproteus multipigmentatus Sp. Nov. (Haemosporidia,Haemoproteidae) from the endemic Galapagos Dove, Zenaida galapagoensis, with remarks on the parasite distribution, vectors, and molecular diagnostics. Journal of Parasitology 96:783-792.
  • Levin, I.I., Outlaw, D.C., Vargas, F.H., and P.G. Parker. 2009. Plasmodium blood parasite found in endangered Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus). Biological Conservation 142:3191-3195.
  • Wheelwright NT, MB Swett, II Levin, DE Kroodsma, CR Freeman-Gallant and H Williams. 2007. The influence of different tutor types on song learning in a natural bird population. Animal Behaviour 75:1479-1493.
  • Perrott, J.K., Levin, I.I., and E.A. Hyde. 2007. Morphology, distribution and desiccation of the Brown Garden snail (Cantareus aspersus) in northern New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 31:60-67.

Book Chapters:

  • Levin, I.I. and P.G. Parker. 2011. Haemosporidian Parasites: Impacts on Avian Hosts. Invited chapter in Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine, Current Therapy, Fowler, M. E. and R.E. Miller, Eds. Saunders, Elsevier. p. 356-363.