How will these metrics be used?
- To monitor the impacts of global warming
- To inform the care of wildlife in captivity
- As indicators of emerging infectious diseases and population endangerment
We have collected standardized individual and population level health metrics for nonhuman primates (2012-), and for bats, birds, and small terrestrial mammals (2018-). In addition to monitoring animal weight, signs of aging, external injuries, and persistence across years, we record blood and urine biomarkers of immune activation and nutrition with point-of-care devices and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs).
Parasites are implicated in regulating predator-prey population cycles, nutrient cycling, animal reproduction, speciation, and social behavior. It is hypothesized that parasite diversity is correlated with community-wide health. Accordingly, in disturbed, fragmented, or unnatural habitats, we would expect less parasite diversity and overall reductions in animal health and population stability.
Do you know the story of the hare and the tortoise? Of course, it’s exciting and of enormous public concern to look for the next high profile infectious disease of zoonotic origin, but don’t underestimate the value of keeping track of the more common parasites in a natural community. We monitor upwards of 15 species of such parasites from blood and fecal samples by light microscopy and targeted PCR. When a population is at risk, we will know early based on obvious gains/losses, or fluctuations, in the natural parasite assemblage. Everyone else looking for the fast and rare hare is likely to miss it more than anything else. We launched this surveillance program with a series of publications, each spanning 3 to 4 years of data.
The future is here! In 2012 we began collecting diverse, noninvasive tissue samples through our capture-release programs that we did not have funding to analyze but knew would be invaluable at a future date. Enter Moore’s Law, but in the context of genomic research! Not only have DNA sequencing costs declined exponentially, but genetic instruments are getting smaller, even pocket-sized. In short, we now have the tissue samples and access to affordable sequencing technology to hunt for bacterial and viral pathogens of global concern.
With a focus on select groups of wildlife with heightened potential to exchange pathogens with humans (i.e. nonhuman primates, bats, and small terrestrial mammals), here is what we plan to do:
Of particular relevance to a post Covid19 reality, we envision a renewed interest for a global one health initiative that merges biodiversity monitoring with routine pathogen screening of all facets of the human wildlife-interface. Small groups of people can have an enormous impact on making the world safer and more sustainable. If you share this vision with us, please get in touch and let’s discuss how we can work towards this together.