The scientific goal of the Kibale EcoHealth Project is to understand how and why anthropogenic changes to tropical forests alter health-related outcomes for people, domestic animals, and wildlife. The project takes place in and near Kibale National Park in western Uganda. This area is a hot spot for human-animal interaction within a region that is itself a hot spot for zoonotic disease emergence due to its fast rate of population growth, high human disease burden (e.g. malaria, AIDS), and exceptional diversity of animal disease reservoirs. The project focuses on wild non-human primates, which are famously diverse and abundant at this location, and which, as a result of our research, are known to exchange pathogens with local people and domestic animals. Our scientific activities combine the biological and social sciences, drawing on disciplines such as epidemiology, molecular biology, behavioral ecology, anthropology, demography, and disease modeling to answer complex questions about disease transmission, health, and root socio-economic drivers.
Some of our specific research projects include:
Biological and human dimensions of primate retroviral transmission
This project examines viral transmission in wild primates in Uganda, focusing on the dynamics of transmission within and between wild primate species and on human social factors that increase the likelihood of transmission from primates to people. By combining data from both the biological and social sciences, the research will shed light on viral transmission in natural primate populations while also identifying how human knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors might enable diseases to “jump” into humans and potentially spread.
Forest fragmentation and cross-species pathogen transmission
This project examines the dynamics of gastrointestinal microbial transmission among non-human primates, people, and livestock in fragmented forest habitats. By combining molecular analyses of microbes such as Escherichia coli and Giardia duodenalis with ecological measurements of the forest fragments in which their host species interact, we hope to quantify how fragmentation alters rates and patterns of cross-species microbial transmission.
Animal health at the wildlife-livestock interface
This project examines the health of livestock at the border of Kibale National Park, where interactions with wildlife are intense due to such factors as crop raiding and forest clearing. Using rigorous veterinary health evaluation of herds and individual animals and quantitiative measures of interaction between domestic and wild animals, we hope to identify epidemiological risk factors for reduced livestock health and productivity that are related to wildlife interaction and proximity to the park.
Phylogenetic and ecological influences on the primate microbiome
This project examines the diversity and composition of microbial communities in non-human primates, people, and livestock. Because these species overlap extensively in their use of habitat, we can examine the influence of phylogeny and physiology on the "microbiome" with ecology held relatively constant. Because we have access to primate populations living in habitats that range from pristine forest to highly degraded forest fragments, we can also examine how habitat variation influences the primate microbiome.
Pre-emergent pathogen discovery in Ugandan primates
This project examines novel pathogens in the primates of Uganda. Using "next generation" sequencing technologies and high-quality biological samples, we are discovering new and potentially zoonotic pathogens, including DNA viruses, RNA viruses, and protozoa. Because only a small proportion of primate pathogens are known, this project has the potential to identify important infectious agents before they enter the human population.