Protecting the environment is usually easier to the extent we can link it to human health concerns. The tough federal Clean Air Act, for example, has been driving the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, but the real impetus for the law is the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate that it’s saving more than 160,000 human lives each year.
Amphibians are important indicators of ecosystem health but are declining globally. A major contributor to amphibian declines is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogenic fungus that causes cutaneous infection in many amphibian species.
Environmental changes can impact host-parasite interactions by altering fundamental host behaviors, such as competition, predation, foraging, and sociality. These environmentally-induced changes to wildlife host communities affect the epidemiology of zoonotic pathogens.
The Tick Project is testing whether environmental interventions can prevent tick-borne diseases in our communities. The need for prevention is stronger than ever, with expanding tick populations and more than 300,000 Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.
Why do the majority of human infectious diseases originate from wildlife? Our lab seeks to identify intrinsic characteristics of wild species (e.g., life history, ecological, physiological traits) that signal their potential to be future reservoirs of zoonotic diseases (human diseases with animal origins).
Different species of tick hosts tend to have different probabilities of transmitting an infection to a feeding tick. In eastern and central North America, the host most likely to transmit an infection to a feeding tick is the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), which infects between 40% and 90% of feeding larvae.
Biodiversity can protect human health by reducing human exposure to diseases transmitted from wildlife. Environmental changes, such as habitat fragmentation, can increase disease risk by reducing both predators and biodiversity.