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Kelly Speer, Ph.D., M.S.

Biodiversity Genomics and George E. Burch Postdoctoral Fellow
B.A. and B.S., University of New Mexico; M.S., University of Florida; Ph.D., Richard Gilder Graduate School & American Museum of Natural History

Kelly Speer works at the interface of microbial ecology and evolutionary biology at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation Genomics and the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology. Speer’s research focuses on blood-feeding flies that transmit diseases to wildlife. Using genomics to examine the interactions between beneficial and pathogenic microbes in these flies, Speer tests fundamental hypotheses about how complex communities of microbes, arthropods and mammals co-evolve.

Speer’s projects include:

  • Determining the microbial enablers of blood-feeding in calyptrate flies using historical specimens
  • Estimating population bottlenecks associated with maternal transmission of symbiotic bacteria
  • Disease ecology of arthropod-vectored bacteria in neotropical bats
Arthropod-vectored pathogens are a significant source of emerging infectious disease. However, we have almost no knowledge of the transmission dynamics of these pathogens prior to their emergence in humans, livestock or crops. As a postdoctoral fellow, Speer exams the factors that enable arthropods to feed on blood and transmit pathogens. This research will provide strain-level taxonomic and functional characterization of bacteria associated with blood-feeding and vector competence in biting flies that transmit devastating human parasites. It will also generate valuable genetic material for calyptrate flies, the phylogeny for which is not well resolved.
Speer earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from the University of New Mexico in 2012. She received a master’s degree in zoology in 2015 from the University of Florida, where she studied the population genetics of Caribbean bats and their ectoparasites. In 2019, she completed her doctorate at the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. Speer’s dissertation revealed strong species-specific associations between blood-feeding parasites of bats, called bat flies, and their microbial communities, despite broad geographic sampling across degraded and relatively pristine habitats. For her postdoctoral research, Speer is working with SCBI Secretary Scholar and Molecular Pathogen Scientist Carly Muletz-Wolz, and The National Museum of Natural History’s Curator of Clitellata and Parasitic Worms, Anna Phillips.
Recent Publications: 

Becker, D.J., Speer, K.A., Brown, A.M., Fenton, M.B., Washburne, A.D., Altizer, S., Streicker, D.G., Plowright, R.K., Chizhikov, V.E., Simmons, N.B., Volokhov, D.V., 2020. Ecological and evolutionary drivers of haemoplasma infection and bacterial genotype sharing in a Neotropical bat community. Mol. Ecol. 29, 1534–1549.

Galen, Spencer C; Speer, Kelly A; Perkins, Susan L. Evolutionary lability of host associations promotes phylogenetic overdispersion of co-infecting blood parasites. Journal of Animal Ecology.88.12.1936-1949.2019.

Speer, Kelly A; Luetke, Eli; Bush, Emily; Sheth, Bhavya; Gerace, Allie; Quicksall, Zachary; Miyamoto, Michael; Dick, Carl W; Dittmar, Katharina; Albury, Nancy; Reed, David. A Fly on the Cave Wall: Parasite Genetics Reveal Fine-Scale Dispersal Patterns of Bats. Journal of Parasitology.105.4.555-566.2019.American Society of Parasitologists