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Extramural Research

Multidisciplinary Approach to Examining the Links

Grantee Research Project Results

Extramural Research Search

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
September 14-15, 2006

The National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Research and Development has proposed a joint Ecosystem-Health research program to study the links between changes in biodiversity and risks to human health. NCER has a responsibility to undertake exploratory research on emerging scientific issues, and workshops are organized for these topical discussions. Studying the relationship between biodiversity and human health is a timely research opportunity. The loss of biodiversity is accelerating while infectious diseases appear to be emerging and reemerging at a faster rate. Research on the links between these two conditions can have an important impact on our view of biodiversity, the services provided by natural ecosystems, and how we manage them.

In co-sponsorship with Yale's Center for EcoEpidemiology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the World Conservation Union, EPA/NCER is planning an interdisciplinary workshop of researchers, practitioners, and decisionmakers in ecology, public health, remote sensing, and the social sciences. We will discuss the state of the science, refine research priorities, and begin discussions on how to integrate existing data into a monitoring and risk-forecasting network that aims to prevent or significantly mitigate risks of human disease and threats to biodiversity around the world.

The September 14 forum will consist of presentations on themes related to biodiversity and human health such as epidemiology and vector ecology; climate change, biodiversity, and health; wildlife trade and the spread of exotics and disease; pharmacopeia; the role of biodiversity in natural catastrophes; valuation of biodiversity for public health; and applications of research to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). These presentations will be part of an outreach effort to scientists and decision-makers to stress the importance of the connection between biodiversity and human health and to discuss the state of the science.

The September 15 workshop will bring together experts from a variety of disciplines, academia, non-governmental organizations and management agencies from the U.S. and abroad, to share expertise and information and to consider new approaches to characterize the relationship of biodiversity and human health, develop tools to help monitor and forecast risks, and manage risks to health and the environment. In break-out groups, participants will address three specific tasks:

  1. Case Studies on Biodiversity and Human Health

    Identify case studies and disease systems that could show or test a clear linkage between biodiversity and human health. Discuss different mechanisms in which changes in biodiversity can affect human health. What are the questions that could be applied across disease (established and/or new) systems? What are the likely outputs of such research? How can they be used by decision-makers to improve health and the environment?

  2. Risk Management and Policy

    Discuss risk management of environmental health problems and how to develop intervention strategies that reconcile conflicts between environmental and health concerns. This session can help address how the efforts of public health agencies to control outbreaks of vector-borne diseases can impact biodiversity. How can the mismatch in thinking between health and biodiversity experts and practitioners be addressed and resolved? What kinds of data/tools do managers need from scientists that could be useful to decision-making?

  3. Mapping Biodiversity and Human Health

    Discuss how to use earth observation and field data to develop disease risk maps and spatial models to examine possible correlations between habitat alteration, biodiversity loss, changes in pathogen distribution, and the emergence and spread of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases. Disease risk maps could be used as decision-support tools, enhancing the capacity to do surveillance and risk forecasting of ecosystem and human health; and, they could enable the identification of areas suitable for pilot projects to study the relationship between biodiversity change and risks to human health.

The goals of this workshop are to improve understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and human health, to identify research priorities from a multidisciplinary perspective as well as the research outputs that would be useful for decision-makers charged with protecting public health and the environment. Workshop organizers are interested in publishing key findings in a prominent scientific journal.

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