Current research projects

Emerging viruses: deciphering natural cycles through surveilance of vectors and hosts, and ecological modeling

This is a project for the development of a research group on emerging viruses, combining multiple theoretical approaches and techniques. The group is led by Dr. Adriana Delfraro (Virology Dept. - Sciences College - UdelaR) and Dr. Germán Botto (Quantitative methods Dept. - School of Medicine - UdelaR) and was founded by a 4-years grant from the Council on Scientific Research from the Universidad de la República (CSIC-UdelaR). The research group will focus on five research lines: Vampire-bat-rabies ecology, Arbovirus wild cycles, Herpesvirus as population molecular markers, Detection and characterization of Coronavirus in bats, and Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife. Research activities are complemented with the development of undergraduate and graduate courses.

Molecular ecology in the common vampire bat in Uruguay

This project aims to enhance our understanding of the trophic position of the common vampire bat in Uruguay. On one hand we will use metabarcoding approaches to assess the presence and abundance of wildlife as preys of vampire bats, and simultaneously we will use real time PCR to explore the role of autochthonous carnivores as potential predators of vampire bats. PI: Germán Botto. This project has been selected in the 2021 call for proposals of the Vaz Ferreira research found (Uruguay).

Characterization of virus in Uruguayan bats. Consequences for biodiversity conservation and impact in human and animal health

The aim of the project is to improve our understanding of the role of bats in wild cycles of viruses in Uruguay and to use some of those viruses to infer population dynamics of the hosts. We are specially interested in the use of viral markers to track connectivity patterns in bats that can be used to design conservation strategies. The co-PIs are Adriana Delfraro, Sandra Frabasile, Germán Botto and Natalia Rego, from the Sciences College and Medical School at the Universidad de la República, and the Institut Pasteur Montevideo. The research is supported by a grant from the National Agency for Research and Innovation (ANII - Uruguay). From samples collected between 2013 and 2015 there are two published papers exploring Herpesvirus, Pneumovirus, Rabies and Alphavirus infection (Moreira Marrero et al. 2021, 2022).

Wastewater based epidemiology (NIVEAR)

Research group led by Dr. Alicia Aleman (School of Medicine - UdelaR) and MSc Julieta López (Engineering College - UdelaR) and founded by a grant from the Interdisciplinary Unit (Universidad de la República) for development of trandisciplinary research groups.

Statistic data modeling and artificial intelligence in nature (MEDIANA)

Research group led by Dr. Carolina Crisci (CURE - UdelaR) and Dr. José R. León (Engineering College - UdelaR) and founded by a grant from the Interdisciplinary Unit (Universidad de la República) for development of trandisciplinary research groups.

Past research projects

2022. Ruins and Bats: bat conservation and sustainable use of historic heritage sites.

This is an undergraduate outreach project, led by Juan Manuel Díaz and advised by Germán Botto, with support from the outreach committee at the Universidad de la República (CSEAM - UdelaR), aiming to provide basis to integrate bat management and conservation within the turistic development of a national historical heritage site: the Cuñapiru hydroelectric compound in northern Uruguay. This site is the center of the historic gold mining circuit in the country and the first hydroelectric dam built in Latin America. Today, the site is being proposed as part of a Unesco's Geopark and is being revalued as a turistic circuit. The ruins of the dam are also home to the largest insectivorous bat colony known in the country. Until recently the bat colony was viewed as a handicap for the turistic development of the site. We are working towards the integration of the bat colony as a new value within the development of the cultural/historic circuit.

2022. Deers and Bats: rethinking shared worlds from a participatory wildlife survey in Rocha, Uruguay.

The project, led by anthropologist Dr. Martín Dabezies (CURE - UdelaR) intends to understand the relationships between humans and animals in an agroecological context, by promoting a conversational process between academia and local stakeholders. In particular, we aim to understand and explore the relationships between rural communities, childrens, bats and pampas deers. The two wildlife species were selected as representatives of two different perceptions of wildlife by people: an endangered endemic subspecies of pampas deer as the charismatic species, and bats as the usual recipients of negative feelings towards wildlife, especially in the context of an ongoing pandemic. This project is supported by the outreach committee at the Universidad de la República (CSEAM - UdelaR)

2022. Reproductive seasonality in bats from Uruguay

This is an undergraduate research project, led by Micaela Álvarez and advised by Germán Botto, aiming to describe the seasonal birth pulses of insectivorous bats species from Uruguay. While there is anecdotal evidence of birht pulss concentrated in early summer, we plan to numerically characterize birth pulses for at least five common species of insectivvorous bats. This information will be useful to improve bat conservation and management strategies, as well as bat sampling practices. The project is supported by an undergraduate research fund from the Universidad de la República (PAIE - CSIC - UdelaR).

2021 - 2022. Tracking SARS-CoV-2 in wastewaters from Uruguay

This project aimed to set up a surveillance method for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewaters in small cities from Uruguay. It’s a collaboration between several colleges (Engineering, Sciences, Medicine, Chemistry) at the Universidad de la República and was supported by grants from the Universidad de la República (Espacio Interdisciplinario) and the national water and sewage administration (OSE).

2018 - 2022. Relevant Sites and Areas for Bat Conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean

This is a regional working network, gathering 70 bat researchers in the continent to enhance the conservation network through the identification and assessment of relevant sites for bat conservation across the countries members of the RELCOM. The initiative is led by Dr. Jafet Nassar (Venezuela) and is supported by the Iberoamerican Program of Science and Technology for the Development (CYTED). Within this initiative, Uruguay proposed five sites as relevant for bat conservation in the country, and in concordance with the national strategy for bat conservation. Those proposal were approved by the RELCOM between 2017 and 2018.

2016 - 2021. Effect of landscape fragmentation in bat population dynamics and disease persistence in Uruguay

This project intended to understand the effects of land use change in the connectivity of vampire bat populations and its influence on rabies emergence and persistence in Uruguay. We combined field surveillance, laboratory data and mathematical modeling to address this question. This was the proposal for my PhD dissertation in Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Montana State University, under the advisory of Dr. Raina Plowright. The research was supported by a Fulbright Doctoral Scholarship and funds from Bat Conservation International (Student Research Scholarship for Global Bat Conservation Priorities ) the American Society of Mammalogists (Latin American Student Field Research Award). So far, four published papers were derived from this work (Becker et al. 2019, Botto Nuñez et al. 2019, 2020, 2021).

2018 - 2020. Genetics, acoustics and flight trajectory studies of bats in Uruguay: impacts of wind turbines on their behavior and conservation

This project was part of a bilateral cooperation between France and Uruguay, involving the Universidad de la República (URY), the National Museum of Natural History (URY), the Institut Langevin (FRA), and the National Museum of Natural History (FRA). The principal investigators are Alexandre Hassanin (FRA) and Germán Botto (URY). The main goal of the project is to assess the impact of wind turbines in the behavior and conservation of bats from Uruguay, using a multidisciplinary approach involving population genetics, integral taxonomy, and trajectography. This proposal is supported by a grant from the Program ECOS-Sud Uruguay.

2015 - 2016. Development of a machine learning algorithm for bat identification from echolocation calls

We developed a supervised machine learning algorithm to identify bat species in Uruguay from their echolocation calls. We also compared the performance of three ML techniques: Random Forests, Artificial Neural Networks and Supporting Vector Machines. This was a graduate research project, supported by a scholarship from the Scientific Research Committee (Universidad de la República - Uruguay). The academic advisor was Dr. Carolina Crisci. An open access web-based tool was developed and the paper describing the development and validation was published in Ecological Informatics (Botto Nuñez et al. 2018).

2015 - 2016. Fetal Growth Patterns

We described the normal patterns of fetal growth for the Uruguayan population and we compared them with the previous reference patterns to detect changes, after 40 years and several changes in life conditions in the country. No significative changes in growth trends were detected. I worked as statistics consultant for this group, leaded by Dr. Luis Delgado and Dr. Cristina Cordano. The findings were published in the Latin American Journal of Perinatology (Delgado et al. 2017).

2014 - 2016. Optimal localization of educative facilities

We developed a methodology both to plan the optimal localization of educational facilities and also to assess the coverage of the current distribution of facilities. This methodology was used to help in the planning of the projected expansion of the public initial education system in Uruguay. This work was done in collaboration with MSc Richard Detomasi at the Minisitry of Social Development in Uruguay. The work also derived in one contributed talk, an R package (available at GitHub), and one published paper in GeoFocus (Detomasi & Botto 2017).

2014 - 2016. Active surveillance of febrile seizures related to DPT Vaccine in a sentinel hospital in Uruguay

We used Self Controlled Case Series to monitor the occurrence of febrile seizures as side effect of DTP vaccines in children in Uruguay. The research allowed to establish a reference level of risk for the vaccine currently used in the country. I served as statistics consultan in this work, leaded by Dr. Carlos Zunino at the Ministry of Public Health and the School of medicine from the Universidad de la República. The implementation of the technique was presented in the Applied Statistics Meeting in Uruguay in 2017. The final results will be included in a were published as a research paper in the Chilean Journal of Infectious Diseases (Zunino et al. 2019).

2013 - 2016. Conservation strategies for Bats in Uruguay

This was part of the MSc thesis, advised by Dr. Alvaro Soutullo at the Universidad de la República. We assessed the current conservation status of the bat species in Uruguay and performed an analysis of the main threats to bat conservation in the country. As a first step to develop a conservation strategy, we proposed focal groups of species with shared threats or ecological traits. While the thesis was not presented, the work was published as a research paper in the Journal of Neotropical Mammalogy (Botto Nuñez et al. 2019).

2013. Bat conservation in Caranday Palm groves in western Uruguay

This was a project awarded a Student Research Scholarship from Bat Conservation International and the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation. The goal was to obtain base information that would allow the proposal of an Area of Importance for Bat Conservation (AICOM). In parallel the project was used to teach an elective course for undergrads in Biology Sciences at the Universidad de la República. The AICOM proposal was approved in 2018, as the first AICOM for Uruguay.

2009 – 2012. Exposure to trihalomethanes during pregnancy and low birth weight in Montevideo

I worked as a research associate for this project were the goal was to quantify the risk of low birth weight due to exposure to trihalomethanes in drinking water during pregnancy. It was a longitudinal prospective study including ~1000 women from Montevideo. We also designed a sampling network to model the temporal and geographical variation of THMs in the city during a two-years period. The project was leaded by Prof. Mariana Gómez and Dr. Miguel Alegretti (MSc Student), at the Department of Preemptive and Social Medicine, from the School of Medicine; and supported by a grant from the Scientific Research Committee (Universidad de la República - Uruguay).

2009 – 2012. Spatial variability of drinking water pollutants and Colo-rectal cancer in Montevideo

This was the second project from the Environmental Epidemiology research line at the Department of Preemptive and Social Medicine, from the School of Medicine (Universidad de la República - Uruguay). The project intended to find spatial relationships between the incidence of Colo-rectal and Vesical Cancer in Montevideo and the long-term presence of THMs in drinking water in the city. The project was led by Profs. Mariana Gómez, Gustavo Seoane and Enrique Barrios, at the School of Medicine (Universidad de la República - Uruguay) and supproted by a research grant from the Honorary Committee for Cancer Control (Uruguay).

2010. Risky behaviors for rabies transmission in a Desmodus rotundus colony in Uruguay

This was an undergraduate research project, supported by a small grant from the Scientific Research Committee (Universidad de la República - Uruguay), were I was one of the students in the group. The academic advisors were Drs. Bettina Tassino and Alvaro Soutullo from the Sciences College. We intended to describe the frequency of behaviors that would be important for rabies transmission inside a vampire bat colony in southern Uruguay.

2009 – 2010. Preserving Uruguay river's forest north of Salto Grande dam

This was a project from the National Museum of Natural History in Uruguay, and the main goal was to assess the conservation status of the remaining forest patches in the left margin of the Uruguay river, northern from the Salto Grande dam. Under the project we made extensive field surveys of tetrapods and plants, and proposed conservation measures. I acted as Co-PI of this proposal together with Ana Laura Rodales, and we received funding from the Swiss Embassy in Montevideo and the National System of Protected Natural Areas. Also we formed a collaboration with a local NGO managing a local protected area. During this project we served as technical advisors for the incorporation of that area to the national system. There is also a proposal to name the forests and islands of the Uruguay river as an AICOM (important area for bat's conservation).

2008 - 2009. Serological Suveillance of bat rabies in Uruguay

This was my undergrad thesis, developed under the advisory of Prof. Juan Arbiza and Eduardo Reolón. We did the set up of a technique for detecting anti-rabies neutralizing antibodies in bats' sera samples, to be used in epidemiological surveillance of wild rabies in Uruguay. The project included the modification of the RFFIT technique to adapt it to a local laboratory and the field surveys. It was carried out under a collaboration agreement between the Sciences College of the Universidad de la Repúblic and Santa Elena (now Virbac Uruguay), a private laboratory producing veterinary vaccines. The final results were included in the undergrad thesis and also presented at the International Mammalogical Congress in Mendoza in 2009.

2008. Attitudes assessment in communities that live with bats: a school sensitization project

This project intended to design an educational proposal to work with children attending to elementary schools with high contact with bat colonies. We also developed a quiz to assess the effect of the intervention on the children's attitudes towards bats and also the effect on attitude changes in the children's family. The project was funded by Green Grants Fund and the PI was Ana Laura Rodales. We presented the final results of the research at the International Mammalogical Congress in Mendoza in 2009.

2007 – 2008. Epidemiological surveillance of enzootic rabies in urban insectivorous bat populations

This project, led by Dr. Helena Guarino at the Veterinary College (Universidad de la República - Uruguay) was designed to perform an active surveillance of rabies infection in insectivorous bats, mainly but not restricted to Montevideo city. I worked as a field research associate, being responsible for planning and executing the field surveys of bats. The project was proposed and approved just before the first outbreak of rabies in the country in October 2007. It was supported by a grant from the Scientific Research Committee (Universidad de la República - Uruguay) and the results were awarded an Honorary Mention of the Annual Award for Scientific Research from the National Academy of Veterinary in 2008.