Species identification of the biting midges and black flies involved in transmission of haemosporidian parasites

Projects leader: prof. dr. (HP) Sigitas Podėnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Rita Žiegytė

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

Although worldwide species diversity of blood-sucking biting midges (Culicoides) and black flies (Simuliidae) is immense (approximately 3000 species), only several tens of species are known to be involved in transmission of haemosporidian infections.The above-mentioned insects are still among the least studied vectors of haemosporidian parasites.

We presume that not yet known species of blood-sucking biting midges and black flies are also involved in transmission of haemosporidian parasites. We will determine the ornithophilic species of these dipterans and carry out experimental studies into the sporogony of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites.

The chief aim of this project is to acquire skills in the identification of ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies in which the sporogony of haemosporidian parasites occurs. Tasks of the current project are as follows: 1. To determine the ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies and their infection with Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites using molecular research methods 2. Having mastered methodologies for species identification of blood-sucking insects, to determine the ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies. 3. To carry out experimental investigations of the sporogony of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites in the identified species of biting midges and black flies.

Studies will be carried out using traditional, taxonomic and molecular research methods (microscopy, PCR, sequencing, phylogenetic analysis). Results of this study are expected to broaden the knowledge of vector species of the infections caused by parasites of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon genera and their transmission in nature. For the first time, the study into the involvement of black flies (Simuliidae), one of the most economically harmful species, in transmission of parasites of the genus Leucocytozoon in Lithuania will be carried out. The obtained findings will help predict bird diseases. Also, they will deepen the understanding of the epidemiology of blood-sucking insect-borne diseases and will undoubtedly play a significant role in developing preventive measures aimed to control the spread of new infections in Lithuania and in neighbouring European countries.

The influence of Solar cycles on vegetation dynamics of the Quaternary Interglacials

Projects leader: dr. Miglė Stančikaitė

Postdoc researcher: dr. Andrej Spiridonov

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

The project encompasses the detection, and the statistical testing of the influence on the Solar cycles and the oceanic oscillations on the land and freshwater plant community dynamics. The high-precision accurately dated paleobotanical micro- and macro- fossil data from the eastern Baltic region will be compared with the proxies of the Solar activity (10Be, and 14C) time series using advanced techniques of the spectral analysis, namely continuous wavelet transforms, Lomb-Scargle periodograms and other spectral analysis techniques implemented in the R computational environment. The understanding of the natural climate change mechanisms and their effects on the dynamics of plant communities, as one of the most important parts of the modern biota, is necessary in order to develop realistic climate change models, identifying natural and human influenced climate changes. The former information is needed in order to minimize the human impact on our planet and ensure the sustainable development of the humanity.

Molecular characterization of avian haemosporidian parasites and determination of their vectors

Projects leader: habil. dr. Gediminas Valkiūnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Carolina Romeiro Fernandes Chagas

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

The project addresses diagnostics and transmission of cosmopolitan avian haemosporidian infections. These blood parasites cause health problems both in birds and dipteran insects, but remain insufficiently investigated. Importantly, some haemosporidian species (for example, malaria parasite Plasmodium relictum pGRW4) are actively transmitted in tropical countries including Brazil, but also emerging to Europe. That indicats global significance of avian haemosporidian research. Postdoc researcher is experienced in PCR-based diagnostics of haemosporidians using cytochrome b (cytb) partial sequences, but not in application of other genes in molecular characterization of the parasites as well as in taxonomy and vector research. Qualification of the researcher would be markedly improved on these topics. The new knowledge will also contribute to development of avian parasitology in Lithuania and Europe. The project is a unique opportunity to bring a Brazilian young researcher to the Lithuanian laboratory, which is well-recognizable in studies of wildlife haemosporidians.