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Integrative biology professors (from left) Drs. Michael Reichert, Elizabeth McCullagh and Matt Bolek

Integrative biology faculty publishes multidisciplinary study on parasites and animal communication

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Three faculty members from Oklahoma State University’s Department of Integrative Biology had their work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).   

Drs. Michael Reichert, Matt Bolek and Elizabeth McCullagh collaborated to write the article "Parasite effects on receivers in animal communication: Hidden impacts on behavior, ecology and evolution,” which was included in the July 18 edition of the publication.   

PNAS is a peer reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences that publishes research of scientists worldwide. Each year, PNAS receives more than 17,000 submissions and reaches a global audience.   

“This is a very broad journal, so it’s being read by people from many different disciplines,” Reichert said. “The broad reach of the journal will allow our ideas to reach a wide audience, who will hopefully be inspired by those ideas to do new studies to help answer some of the questions that we pose.”  

The article, part of a special edition on animal communication, encourages researchers to consider adjusting their focus by highlighting an area that is often overlooked by researchers.   

Most studies on animal communication focus on the signaler, or the animal that is producing the communication signal — such as a song, call or display — with very little focus generally on factors that change an animal’s ability to receive signals,” McCullagh said. “In this context, we explore how parasites can change the reception of signaling information through infection of sensory organs, the brain or other physiological mechanisms that ultimately change the signal. This alteration has broad implications and evolutionary consequences for both parasites and those they inhabit.”  

With research interests in different realms of the biological sciences, Reichert, Bolek and McCullagh began considering these ideas when they first met at OSU. Bolek explained that this kind of collaboration between a parasitologist, neuroscientist and behavioral ecologist is uncommon.   

“I hope that our unusual collaboration is an example that when scientists from very diverse disciplines collaborate, novel ideas and hypotheses can result,” Bolek said. “The benefits of our collaboration really stem from combining our individual research areas, resulting in the development of novel and diverse ideas and hypotheses to help us understand the biological world.”  

As animal communication research advances, the group anticipates future multi-disciplinary approaches to answering biological questions.   

“Our article is really focused on the importance of using techniques and approaches from different fields in biology to study a phenomenon that hasn’t been appreciated before,” Reichert said. “It’s been very stimulating to me to think about communication in a different way, and that only happens because I have collaborations with some very passionate scientists who have skills and perspectives that complement mine.”  

Learn more about PNAS and read open-access research articles on the PNAS website.   

Story By: Erin Weaver, CAS Communications Coordinator |

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