As an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University, my main research focus is in ecology and evolution of avian parasitic diseases. Since 1999 I have been developing a research program that addresses the evolution and ecology of host-parasite interactions, with a primary emphasis on avian blood parasites. The field encompasses many aspects of biology including ecology, evolution, parasitology and conservation genetics. In collaboration with researchers at the Center for Tropical Research at UCLA, JPL/NASA, UC Davis, and the Institute of Ecology at Vilnius University, Lithuania, I study the effects of deforestation on the spread of infectious diseases in African rainforest birds. We have collected a unique set of blood samples from over 200 rainforest bird species in a variety of habitats across Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Uganda. Significantly, the samples were collected from sites both before and after habitat degradation, permitting a unique examination into the direct effects of human induced habitat alterations. Using complementary techniques of blood smear analysis, and molecular biology, samples are assayed for the pathogens that cause malaria, trypanosomiasis, and filiariasis. These diseases in birds have very similar pathologies to their human counterparts, making the study of birds an excellent model system. In addition, we use satellite imagery data to predict how changes in forest composition may affect the spread of diseases in the future. Recently we have begun to study the molecular basis for host specificity of avian blood parasites in order to better understand how diseases may switch hosts and develop into emerging diseases. The field of conservation genetics with regard to infectious diseases is in its infancy, and with a synthesis of traditional and modern methodologies I plan to make strides in answering fundamental questions that will impact conservation policy.
For a list of current publications please visit my website at San Francisco State University. http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~sehgal