Current Research

My expertise is in the etiology and epidemiology of pathogens and diseases of commercially important fish and shellfish. I have worked in three distinct areas: the epidemiology and pathology of microbial and protozoal infections in crustaceans (blue crabs, snow crabs, clawed and spiny lobsters), the etiology of diseases in various molluscs (oysters, hydrothermal vent mussels and abalone), and the toxicity of a group of harmful algae known colloquially as Pfiesteria. Recently I have focused on microbial diseases in crabs and lobsters, particularly Hematodinium infections in blue crabs, epizootic shell disease in clawed lobsters and PaV1 infections in spiny lobsters.

I am an invertebrate zoologist and parasitologist by training and have worked on numerous disease systems. To illustrate, I have 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 how pathogens affect populations and how to measure impacts of disease in marine populations (Shields 2012, 2013). 

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 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. My lab group has also been involved with the development of diagnostics for the detection and quantitation of the virus in spiny lobsters (Li et al. 2006, Li & Shields 2007, Montgomery-Fullerton et al. 2007, Li et al. 2008). This has led to reviews of the diseases and parasites of lobsters and blue crabs (Shields et al. 2006, Shields & Overstreet 2007). More recently we have established Hematodinium perezi in culture in the laboratory (Li et al. 2011). Additional manuscripts include work on the overwintering of the parasite in crabs, the cycling of the parasite in endemic and hyper-endemic locations, and the development of new field methods to investigate incidence and transmission.

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 (scoring requirements have recently changed), as well as a solid GPA and great letters. I also look at whether students have any 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. .