The Kibale EcoHealth Project: ecology of pathogen transmission among non-human primates, humans, and domestic animals in Uganda
The Kibale EcoHealth Project merges research‚ education‚ and capacity-building activities focused on human/animal health and zoonotic disease in the region of Kibale National Park‚ western Uganda. Kibale is a protected tropical forest known for its exceptional biodiversity and richness of primate species. The overall goal of the project is to improve human health‚ animal health‚ and the health and integrity of local forest ecosystems through an “evidence-based” approach that aims to predict and prevent emerging health threats‚ including zoonoses. The project focuses on people‚ primates‚ and livestock in disturbed forests outside the national park. These areas are “hot spots” for human-wildlife-domestic 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. Specifically‚ we are investigating how anthropogenic disturbance to primate habitats (e.g. deforestation‚ forest fragmentation‚ encroachment) alters rates and patterns of infectious disease transmission among non-human primates (monkeys and apes)‚ humans‚ and domestic animals. By training local students and by engaging Ugandan governmental organizations and NGOs‚ we strive to build local capacity and to translate our scientific results into effective‚ targeted policy and management recommendations. For more information, please visit the Kibale EcoHealth Project website.
West Nile virus entered North America in 1999 and has since become endemic. The virus re-emerges annually in urban settings across the United States in a predictable cycle of accelerating mosquito-bird transmission known as “amplification.” When the virus amplifies sufficiently in avian hosts and mosquito vectors‚ it “spills over” into humans. We are studying the dynamics of viral transmission in suburban Chicago‚ in a persistent “hot spot” of arboviral amplification and human disease. Specifically‚ we are investigating how fine-scale ecological processes spark local transmission foci‚ and how these foci ultimately coalesce into larger patterns of amplification. By combining field studies of birds and mosquitoes with molecular studies of the virus and GIS-based analyses of fine-scale landscape characteristics‚ we hope to elucidate the fundamental ecological mechanisms that drive West Nile virus transmission and evolution in urban settings.
Molecular epidemiology of viral disease in agricultural settings
Viral diseases threaten animal agriculture at the same time that they provide a unique opportunity to understand pathogen ecology and evolution in demographically controlled populations. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV‚ an RNA virus in the family Nidovirales‚ related to coronaviruses such as SARS) is arguably the most economically damaging pathogen of domestic swine worldwide. Despite decades of research on the virus‚ no effective vaccine is available‚ and no good solutions for control of the disease currently exist. We are investigating how the high evolutionary rate of this virus may account for its ability to evade conventional control strategies such as vaccination. We are also studying how the evolving virus interacts with the pig's immune system to affect clinical outcomes on farms. The remarkable genetic‚ antigenic‚ and clinical variability of this virus make it an attractive model system for understanding the epidemiology‚ ecology‚ and evolution of RNA viral pathogens in general. This research addresses the goals of the USDA NC229 multi-state program "Detection and control of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus and emerging viral diseases of swine."
Health‚ disease‚ and conservation of aquatic and marine organisms
Aquatic and marine organisms around the world are imperiled by a combination of habitat loss‚ overexploitation‚ and disease. We study a variety of such organisms in a diversity of ecosystems in order to understand how health and disease affect conservation and management efforts:
- Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV, family Rhabdoviridae) is an invasive pathogen that threatens the health and sustainability of North America's aquatic ecosystems. The purpose of this project is to develop novel epidemiological and diagnostic tools for predicting and managing the emergence and spread of VHSV. This project is a collaboration between UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
- Bonefish are a coveted nears-shore marine sport fish that depend on delicate mangrove ecosystems. Healthy bonefish populations can support local economies and can justify conserving coastal habitats‚ but only if “catch-and-release” angling, which is characteristic of this fishery, is regulated to cause minimal negative effects. As part of the Cape Eleuthera Institute Flats Ecology & Conservation Program‚ we are conducting studies of spatial ecology‚ physiology‚ and sustainability of the bonefish population in south Eleuthera‚ The Bahamas. Our goal is to balance the needs of an expanding coastal economy with the health and viability of this valuable marine resource.
- Chytridiomycosis‚ a disease caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis‚ has led to widespread declines of amphibian populations around the world. We are studying the distribution and determinants of fungal infection in frogs in Africa. Almost nothing is known about the impacts of this pathogen on amphibian populations in equatorial Africa‚ despite the remarkable diversity and endemism of amphibians in this area.