Husker seeks crowdfunding support for malaria research

· 3 min read

Husker seeks crowdfunding support for malaria research

A male spotted pardalote (one of the study species) is shown outside a nest at the field site in Brookfield Conservation Park, Blanchetown, South Australia. | Photo courtesy Allison Johnson
Allison Johnson
A male spotted pardalote, one of Ian Hoppe's study species, is shown outside a nest at a field site in Brookfield Conservation Park in Blanchetown, South Australia.

A crowdfunding campaign may help fund a University of Nebraska–Lincoln researcher's study on birds’ social behavior and their risk of contracting malaria.

Ian Hoppe, graduate student in the School of Natural Resources, has more than $5,500 to raise before the July 3 deadline for the Wildlife Disease Association-sponsored grant challenge in partnership with [Experiment](, the largest crowdfunding platform for scientific research.

Hoppe could receive a $1,000 boost from the association if he has the [most donors]( by June 24.

A total of 14 projects were accepted into the competition, seven of which will get an extra financial boost from the association before the competition ends July 3.

Hoppe’s project, which studies avian social behavior and exposure to blood parasites, is a collaboration with a long-term bird ecology study in Australia. The 13 other projects in the competition also examine diseases in wildlife under the umbrella One Health, which is built on the premise that animal, plant and human health are linked.

Previous studies have linked bird communities and blood parasites with host behavior, habitat, ecology and life history. Infectious diseases are closely linked to the social system of the species infected, but scientists’ understanding of birds’ social traits and their risk for infection are limited, Hoppe said.

Add climate change — which is expected to alter bird distributions, composition and social ecology ― to the mix, and establishing a clearer link between behavior and risk becomes more important.

“Unlike human malaria, (malaria in birds is) present more or less worldwide outside of polar regions,” Hoppe said. “And although its effects are seldom evident from an outside perspective, it can cause significant health problems for individual birds, and has decimated certain bird populations.

“This project will improve our understanding of how patterns of infection in a community relate to its social structure."

Hoppe plans to be in Brookfield Conservation Park, South Australia, in August to record the social behavior and interactions between bird species, as well as collect blood samples for analysis. The data will be collected during both breeding and pre-breeding seasons.

Backers of the project will receive updates from Hoppe from the field through Experiment’s open lab notebook, which keeps funders in the loop, but also encourages the science to move faster.

“The Experiment platform is a great opportunity for the public to become involved in research — whether by donating, sharing projects with others, or offering their own observations and questions with researchers,” Hoppe said. “Aside from giving the public a say in which projects are funded, Experiment offers unique insights on the research process for people whose only other exposure might be through news stories and popular science articles produced well after projects are finished and published in academic journals.”

Experiment also aims to democratize the research process by removing early-career barriers to funding that young scientists may face. Thus far, 890 projects and $8.7 million in pledges have been raised through the site, a for-profit company founded in 2012.

“For the cost of a cup of coffee, or any amount people would like to donate, they can support dedicated students and get the inside scoop on progress in the field and lab,” said Liz VanWormer, Nebraska One Health coordinator and Hoppe’s adviser. “Ian is an excellent and enthusiastic researcher and his project will enhance our understanding of the connections between bird behavior and disease exposure.”

[Click here to read more or donate to Hoppe’s project.](