Andrew Durso

Dr Andrew Durso is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He was recently shortlisted for Functional Ecology’s Haldane Prize for Early Career Researchers for his paper, Stable isotope tracers reveal a trade‐off between reproduction and immunity in a reptile with competing needs

In this Insight, he talks about how he got into ecology and what he’s been working on since then.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently a postdoc at the University of Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland, working on venomous snakebite diagnostics and specifically on developing better tools for doctors to use to identify snake and select specific antivenoms when faced with venomous snakebite cases. Venomous snakebite is responsible for ~100,000 human deaths annually and treatment in many parts of the world is dreadfully inadequate, partly due to insufficient training & diagnostics. We’re creating an app that uses a combination of machine learning/artificial intelligence, crowd-sourcing, and gold-standard expert verification to support clinicians in antivenom selection and snakebite treatment.

How did you get involved in ecology?

I started volunteering at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was ~10 years old. I was fortunate to have mentors at this museum who encouraged my interest in ecology & in herpetology specifically. During my undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, I managed to secure an NSF REU summer position at the Savannah River Ecology Lab (SREL) in South Carolina working on aquatic snake ecology. This set the stage for my graduate work on snake ecology, behaviour, physiology, and evolutionary biology, of which my recent paper in Functional Ecology was a part.

What project are you most proud of?

I’m actually most proud of my undergraduate work on snake detection and occupancy, because I think it has the most important applications to conservation and wildlife management.

What is the best thing about being an ecologist?

I think that the best thing about being an ecologist is being able to pursue broad, intellectual questions and investigate complex, indirect phenomena, and to do field work in relatively undisturbed areas, and to talk about ecology with non-scientists.

What is the worst thing about being an ecologist?

It’s the culture of academia, the pressure to publish & get grants, impact factors, citation metrics, the devaluation of work-life balance, double standards.

What would you like to do next?

Spend more time in the field. Train students. Improve my skills in python, Bayesian statistics, pedagogy, talking to non-scientists about science.

What do you do in your spare time?

Watch birds, listen to rock & roll, cycle, spend time with family & friends, cook, read books, write

You can read Andrew’s paper, along with the other winning and shortlisted papers, here.