Foley Laboratory in Infectious Disease Ecology

Research Projects

Epidemiology of vector-borne diseases

Vector-borne diseases present problems in epidemiology and ecology because systems are inherently multi-trophic, often modulated by community biodiversity, and typically dynamic and variable across space and time. We study vector-borne disease in people, domestic animals, and wildlife in order to provide tools for disease management, understand how biological diversity contributes to disease persistence, and use detailed natural history data to inform theoretical ecology of disease. We continue to study the ecology of granulocytic anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, leptospirosis, rickettsioses, and mange. Click here to see an overview of our various comparative studies of mange. Some target host species and ecosystems include all the diverse chipmunks in California, western gray squirrels, dusky-footed woodrats, coastal redwood ecosystems, the Mojave Desert, Panamanian forests, and disturbed and peri-urban ecosystems across California. 

Disease modeling

Associates are engaged in simulation and analytical modeling of infectious disease persistence and emergence in nature. Examples include modeling persistent plague in a highly biodiverse small mammal and flea community, economic and SIRS-coupled modeling of tick-borne disease in high risk Humboldt County, and statistical modeling of nidicolous ticks and their contribution to the persistence of Anaplasma phagocytophilum.


Leptospirosis is a "forgotten" disease. Cases occur frequently in dogs, causing kidney and sometimes liver failure and death. Humans also experience leptospirosis often associated with water-oriented sporting events and exposure to domestic animals and wildlife, especially rats. Yet we don't understand most aspects of Leptospira ecology. Our research focuses on the epidemiology of leptospirosis in dogs, small mammals, and mesocarnivores in California. 

Disease and forest change

Anthropogenic habitat change can alter the probability of disease emergence. In the literature, changes often are attributed to global warming but deforestation, reforestation, and fire also can catastrophically alter natural communities and change disease risk. Our work focuses on anthropogenic habitat change and its impact on diseases transmitted by ticks including Ixodes ricinus group hard ticks such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

Conservation ecology and disease

Our work to discover the risk infectious agents pose to vulnerable wildlife species includes comprehensive study of natural history, extinction risk, and disease risk in Amargosa voles, and studies of emergence of mange in bobcats, western gray squirrels, golden eagles, and San Joaquin kit foxes.