Conservation Ecology - CE

Landscape Epidemiology and Wildlife Diseases

The distribution of multi-host pathogens in wild populations remains poorly resolved or unknown. However, these pathogens have the potential to profoundly influence the structure and stability of natural communities, exerting cascading effects throughout the food web and social interaction, thus compromising ecosystem health. When these pathogens circulate at the wildlife-livestock-human interface, they not only present a challenge to biodiversity conservation but also to the sustainability of agro-systems and public health.

Understanding patterns of infectious disease and how the populations are epidemiologically connected to each other is thus critical to unveiling natural and anthropogenic determinants of pathogen spread and to anticipating current and future disease threats.

Our group uses top-down and bottom-up approaches within a landscape epidemiology framework to untangle disease distribution and transmission dynamics in selected multi-host scenarios across multiple scales. We also develop efforts to disclose evolutionary forces that are exerted upon pathogens underlying host and geographic range shifts, pathogen adaptation processes to host and co-evolution. We focus on a wide range of model microorganisms that infect diverse taxonomic groups. We integrate microbiological, molecular and mathematical tools aiming to devise new interventions and support knowledge-based management and conservation decisions.

Our research interests and ongoing work cover a wide range of topics that include:

  • Disease distribution, pathogen fingerprinting and development of eco-epidemiological models for multi-host pathogen scenarios. This research line includes generating new data with new tools (e.g. next-generation sequencing) and revisiting old data, aiming at the refinement of spatial and temporal analyses.
  • Spatial risk analysis and prediction of the role of anthropogenic changes, land-use transitions, landscape fragmentation and climate change on disease distribution and dissemination in natural wild populations
  • Assessment of the role of physiological indicators and life history traits on pathogen transmission and disease progression in natural and managed populations
  • Disclosure of ecological processes underlying host adaptation and geographic range shifts
  • Comparative host–pathogen co-evolutionary analyses of selected pathogens and mammals
  • Functional implications and epidemiological consequences of microvariation of model pathogens (e.g. mycobacteria) using systems biology approaches
  • Comparative and functional genomic analysis of pathogenic mycobacteria to assess the role of selected gene determinants in regulatory networks, signalling cascades, and niche adaptation.