Current Research

My expertise is in the etiology and epidemiology of pathogens and diseases of commercially important fish and shellfish. I've worked on a number of issues, but lately my research has been on the epidemiology of protozoal infections in blue crabs, the etiology and impact of epizootic shell disease on lobsters, and idiopathic blindness in lobsters. I've also published extensively on PaV1 infections in spiny lobsters, issues surrounding the alleged toxicity of Pfiesteria, and the etiology of diseases in other marine systems.

I am an invertebrate zoologist and parasitologist by training and have worked on numerous disease systems. For example, I've described 15-16 species from five Kingdoms, including a virus, a bacterium, a fungus, 2 dinoflagellates, a cestode, 6 nemerteans and 3 isopods; and I have published several papers on fungal pathogens as well.  However, my main interests are in the ecological associations between marine hosts and their pathogens, particularly aspects of disease etiology and transmission, and the impact of diseases on marine populations (Shields 2012, 2013, 2017). 

Most of my research has been on the diseases of crustaceans. This has included the first reported pathogenic virus from a lobster (Shields & Behringer 2004), the first report of healthy animals being able to detect and avoid diseased ones (Behringer et al. 2006), epidemiological studies on Hematodinium infections in crustaceans (e.g., Shields et al. 2005, 2007), and the effects of egg predators on crab populations (e.g., Shields & Segonzac 2007). My work on species of Hematodinium, which are parasitic dinoflagellates in crustaceans, has uncovered many aspects of these parasites, including new insights into their transmission, disease-induced mortalities to the fisheries, hematological and other host factors in the disease, the pathophysiology of infection, development of diagnostics, taxonomy and basic culture and life cycle studies. Most of our recent work on Hematodinium has been examining aspects of its transmission to blue crabs in the hyper-endemic bays of the region (Shields et al. 2017, Huchin-Mian et al. 2017, 2018). We've also been publishing on epizootic shell disease (Barris et al. in press, Groner et al. in press, Hoenig et al. 2017) and on idiopathic blindness in lobsters (Shields et al. 2012, Ochs et al. 2018).

Students interested in working with me should contact me directly before applying to VIMS.  I must have grant funds in place to pay for students; and this is the single largest factor in deciding whether I can take additional students. Other factors are the GRE scores, as well as a solid GPA and great letters. I also look at whether students have research experience as an undergraduate and whether their interests match mine. Students should have taken courses in microbiology, parasitology, invertebrate zoology, ecology, or marine ecology, or related fields. I also highly recommend that you interview at VIMS or skype with me prior to applying for graduate school here. Many faculty won't take students without an interview so plan for one if you're serious about grad school. .