Nick grew up in rural western Pennsylvania, and received his PhD in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Pittsburgh where he studied the behavioral ecology of animal societies. His dissertation focused on animal personality, collective behavior, and bacterial transmission dynamics in social spiders. His research has taken him across North America and Southern Africa, where he studies the ecological consequences of animal personalities across multiple scales, from individuals to communities, with an unapologetic emphasis on invertebrates. Nick is, admittedly and proudly, a heavy metal enthusiast, horror film fanatic, and an all-around unabashed nerd.
Although we generally attribute many disease dynamics to larger-scale attributes of host populations, individuals are the collective arbiters of any larger-scale ecological or epidemiological process. Indeed, epidemiologists have long recognized the importance of variation in individuals’ propensity to encounter and transmit infectious agents of disease. In the most extreme of circumstances, the actions of just a few individuals can be the tipping point upon which outbreaks rise or fall. This variation is clearly driven by trait differences among individuals, but very little is known about what traits make individuals more or less important for epidemics and diseases. Thus, a more comprehensive understanding of disease dynamics requires a multi-tiered perspective, from individual traits to population demography. As a Rice Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Nick aims to test the degree to which variation among hosts in key disease susceptibility traits (immunity, behavior, and microbiome composition) can drive disease prevalence at the population level, using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. He hopes to link multi-trait intraspecific variation in individual disease risk and population disease prevalence in novel experimental frameworks. Nick will work under the mentorship of Julia Saltz and Volker Rudolf of the Biosciences Department.