Dynamic interplay of ecology, infectious disease, and human life

Spillover of infectious wildlife diseases to domestic animals and people and the link between environmental processes and human health

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For immediate release:  Thursday, 27 June 2013                        

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; gro.asenull@enidan

or Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; gro.asenull@retsell




Two symposia focusing on the ecological dynamics of infectious diseases such as avian influenza, Yellow Fever, and Lyme will take place during the Ecological Society of America’s 98th Annual Meeting, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One will look at human influences on viral and bacterial diseases through our alteration of landscapes and ecological processes, while the other will focus on the emerging field of eco-epidemiology that seeks to integrate biomedical and ecological research approaches to address human health threats.

The symposium on Monday, August 5, will take a deeper look at a range of human activities that affect infectious disease. Though we often think of diseases as simply being “out there” in the environment, our own actions—like feeding outdoor birds—can influence the abundance, diversity and distribution of wildlife species and thus, infectious diseases in wildlife, many of which have the potential to also infect us.

“New human settlements, the spread of agriculture, and the increasing proximity of people, their pets, and livestock to wild animals, increase the probability of disease outbreaks,” said session organizer Courtney Coon, with the University of Florida. “We’re particularly interested in learning more about how urban and other environments that we dramatically change affect the susceptibility and transmission potential of animals that are hosts or vectors of disease.”

What are the key determinants of spillover of wildlife diseases to domestic animals and humans?  Why is the prevalence of pathogens in wildlife living in urban areas often altered from counterparts in less developed environments?  Speakers will address these and more questions in the symposium, that will also include a session highlighting ways in which citizen scientists can contribute important information that helps track avian diseases.   

The symposium on Tuesday, August 6, will continue the theme of infectious disease but with an eye toward integrating biomedical and ecological approaches to aid investigation and control of emerging zoonotic diseases. 

“Environmental processes and human health are linked and we’d like to chart a future in which ecologists and epidemiologists more routinely work in tandem to address health problems,” said symposium organizer Jory Brinkerhoff. 

Those studying human diseases may overlook possible ecological factors. For example, most Lyme disease cases in the eastern United States occur in the North even though the black-legged tick, which transmits the bacterium, may be found throughout the eastern US. The answer is likely tied to ecological factors such as the variety of host species that occur across the Eastern range. Meanwhile, disease ecologists may neglect to integrate human ecology in their studies. For instance, human life histories and social dynamics are critically important in the success or failure of managing the mosquito-borne virus, dengue.

“Disease ecologists and epidemiologists address some of the same kinds of questions yet operate largely in isolation of one another,” said Brinkerhoff. “We’re bringing them together to share their approaches and study designs and strengthen our ability to address public health issues.”

SYMPOSIUM 2 – Disease Ecology in Human-Altered Landscapes. Monday, August 5, 2013: 1:30 PM – 5 PM, 205AB, Minneapolis Convention Center.

Organizer/Moderator: Courtney Coon, University of South Florida

Co-Organizer: James Adelman, Virginia Tech


· Parviez Hosseini, EcoHealth Alliance

· Matthew Ferrari, Penn State University

· A. Marm Kilpatrick, University of California, Santa Cruz

· Raina Plowright, Pennsylvania State University

· Sonia Altizer, University of Georgia

· Becki Lawson, Zoological Society of London

SYMPOSIUM 8 – Eco-Epidemiology: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Addressing Public Health Problems.  Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 1:30 PM – 5 PM, 205AB Minneapolis Convention Center.

Organizer/Moderator: Jory Brinkerhoff, University of Richmond

Co-Organizer: Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale School of Public Health


· Maria Diuk-Wasser, Yale School of Public Health

· Daniel Salkeld, Colorado State University

· Mark Wilson, University of Michigan

· James Holland Jones, Stanford University

· Harish Padmanabha, National Center for Socio-Environmental Synthesis

· Jean Tsao, Michigan State University

Media Attendance

The Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting, Aug. 4-9, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is free for reporters with a recognized press card and institutional press officers. Registration is also waived for current members of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Interested press should contact Liza Lester at gro.asenull@retsell or 202-833-8773 x211 to register.  In a break from previous policy, meeting presentations are not embargoed.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at https://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at https://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org