Who started this site?
My name is Martina, and I was born in Rome on 4 June 1987. I was graduated with the maximum qualification (cum laude) in Biological Sciences at the University of Roma Tre, in Rome (Italy) with specialization in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management in 2011. My master thesis focused on the study of Animal Ecology, specifically on the study of the structure, composition, and relationship with some environmental parameters of a breeding bird community of the beech wood of Allumiere (Rome, central Italy). After that, in July 2012, I finished an Official Master of II level in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville (Spain), with the maximum qualification of Sobresaliente.
During the last year of my degree, with a grant from the European LLP/Erasmus Student Placement Program, I started my research activity in the field of Ecology of Parasitism at the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC). There, I did my doctoral thesis directed by Dr. Jodi Figuerola and Dr. Josué Martínez de la Puente at the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC),
funded by the Spanish Formación de Profesorado Universitario (FPU) grant. I defended my PhD thesis titled “Biodiversity and Vector-Borne diseases: effects of landscape, mosquito and vertebrate communities on the transmission of West Nile virus and avian malaria parasite” on June 26th, 2017, obtaining the title of International Doctor with the highest qualification of Sobresaliente cum laude.
I am mainly interested in the Disease Ecology and Epidemiological Modelling of pathogen transmission.
My research focuses on the study of the impact of biodiversity on mosquito-borne diseases. I use a multidisciplinary approach that addresses questions at the interface of Ecology, Parasitology, Ornithology, Medical Entomology and Epidemiology with the commitment of helping in the understanding of the transmission of zoonotic pathogens in the unprecedented scenario of Global Change.
Throughout my career, I have used a wide range of approaches, including novel molecular techniques and the extensive monitoring of natural processes to investigate the vector-host-pathogen interactions of infectious diseases and how the environmental and anthropogenic factors (e.g., biodiversity, urbanization, land-use change) influence pathogen transmission and the risk of spillovers. Thus, to fully understand the transmission of vector-borne pathogens, I have conducted research at different scales, from specific populations to extensive communities, using as models different groups of insect vectors, i.e., mosquitoes, Culicoides, Drosophilidae, vertebrate hosts (birds and mammals), with a diversity of pathogens (i.e., protozoa, viruses, filarial worms) including those causing zoonotic emerging diseases, also exploring the environmental drivers affecting their interactions. Specifically, I focused on pathogens of ecological and public health importance, including West Nile virus (WNV), USUTU virus (USUV) and avian malaria Plasmodium.
As an empirical ecologist myself who has worked on vector-borne diseases, I am well aware of the current gap between theoretical and empirical disciplines, and the lack of experts linking these two fields. After years of field work during my PhD, I understood the importance of
exploring epidemiological models as an essential tool to provide basic guidelines for public health practitioners. My ultimate goals are aimed at answering broad questions in Epidemiology, such as understanding the ecological factors that affect the dynamics of transmission of zoonotic pathogens in wild populations, and how anthropic and ecological factors, e.g., biodiversity, shape the transmission of vector-borne pathogens, thus helping to set better biodiversity conservation policies and public health. This is currently an area of growing interest worldwide given the increasing incidence of emerging and re-emerging diseases, and experts with a profile like mine – who understand of both disciplines, Diseases Ecology and Mathematical Modelling of infectious diseases, are essential to facilitate knowledge interchange and a shared research framework for the scientific community and public health managers.