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COVID-19 taught us all how a single virus has the potential to stop the world (Or a fungus if you are watching ‘The Last of Us’). Things are not so different in the animal world.

Animals are in contact with different microbes all the time, and some of these microbes can cause very serious diseases. The problem is that if your body is fighting a disease, it may mean that animals have less energy to do other important things like find food or reproduce.

Animals in the wild do not have medicines and vaccines to help them fight diseases. This means that avoiding dangerous situations where you can be more exposed to germs is very important for your survival. But how do animals make those decisions? In the game Hungry Birds 2, students will take the role of a parent bird that needs to make very difficult decisions. Students will face the challenge of deciding where to find food, avoiding obstacles and predators, and finally sharing their food among their babies. Through hypothesis testing and exploration, students will and understand a little bit more about the animal world. And maybe even a little about what it’s like to have the responsibilities of an adult!

My research focuses on understanding animal-microbe relationships, especially when animals are trying to reproduce. For example, when a male fish or frog is sick, does that affect his colours, how he smells or how he sounds? And what if the females can notice that change in colour, smell, or sound and would a female avoid that male? These is one of the many questions I am trying to answer through my research at the Australian National University.

By studying how germs affect animals, we can also better understand how humans respond to germs. This could help us develop new medicines, medical treatments, and even avoid future pandemics. Most importantly, understanding how germs affect populations can also improve animal conservation efforts to protect species that may be suffering from population declines.

Written by Diego de Moura Campos

Diego is a researcher biologist currently doing his PhD at the Australian National University, trying to understand how germs can influence animals when they are choosing partners to reproduce. Diego also has a degree in science education, and he has worked as a science author for book publishers.

Book a virtual incursion with Diego!