One more study I'm involved in..this time Herpetology
Last year the Virginia Herpetological Society (http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/VHS/) conducted a "herp" survey in the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge near Tappahannock Va. One of the cancer biologists at MCV is also a herpetologist and is a member of the Va herp society. Last year she noticed that some of the snakes encounterd in the survey were covered with lesions. Now we are have embarked on a mission to find out what's causing these lesions. I am helping her capturing and taking biopsies of these snakes with lesions. It is interesting to note that these lesions are interspecific. In other words, they are affecting multiple species of snakes, not just one. The hypothesis here is that it's a fungus causing these lesions. The next question, then becomes this...is this fungus an introduced disease or has it always been prevalent in thispart of the country. If the latter is true, why is this just now becoming a prevalent problem. The answer to this question MAY be that global warming is putting stress on these animals and causing their immune system to suffer allowing them more susceptibility to fungal diseases. The study is a very interesting one and of course, I will post any progress or results here as well.
We also look at other reptiles and amphibian species and have found a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) with a huge granuloma in and around the neck area, a blackened liver and signs of systemic fungal infection that eventually killed it. Amphibians and yes, even reptiles are natural indicators of our world, they let us know the health of the earth and since the 70's amphibian populations have been declining. Other species of snakes that have been found with lesions so far include: Eastern king snake (Lampropeltis getula getula), Black Rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) and norther copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix mocassen).
Of course, I have to throw the anti-theism pitch here. If god was so perfect and has created animals...why would he/she/it make them so susceptible to weather or other enviornmental stresses. What's more credible here...natural selection for certain animals to have evolved to live a certain way and when the environment changes they cannot survive, OR that god created that way because he didn't even know waht he was doing? hmmm.....