Sebastian Muñoz

Chile | Fulbright S&T awardee 2009 | Princeton University | Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

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Sebastián Muñoz is a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University where he is searching for ecological patterns in parasite communities among a wide range of host species and environments.

A native of Chile, with a professional degree in Marine Biology, Sebastián uses diverse techniques to find and understand the rules governing species coexistance within these communities. He was first introduced to parasitology working in marine environments, studying the ecology of fish and mollusk parasites. He has presented findings from this work at several conferences, including this year’s International Congress of Parasitology in Melbourne, Australia as well as in the Journal of Helminthology.

Supported by the International Fulbright Science & Technology Award, Sebastián is expanding his research by focusing on terrestrial systems (including zebra, antelope, and other African mammals). He recently initiated a field study on parasites of the Tasmanian Devil, an endangered species with very limited parasitological information. This work estimated for the first time the exact abundance of parasites per host, and revealed what appears to be a new parasite species. As the Tasmanian Devil faces extinction due to a novel and contagious form of cancer, documenting their parasite communities could help researchers to better understand their defenses against infection, with important consequences for their conservation.

Sebastian also enjoys social interaction with fellow researchers, which has itself created new research opportunities, including a study on how macroparasites may reduce inflammatory immune responses in songbirds. In association with a professor at Penn State he is also developing mathematical models to explain the infection dynamics of a parasite with a complex life system (i.e. a parasite species that infects more than one species of host on its life cycle). In the long term, his goal is to help to understand the underlying phenomena that drive the observed patterns in these communities.