Climate Ecosystems and Disease

Energy, Environment and Economics are linked by the role of climate in driving infectious disease dynamics. Interaction between climate warming and pathogen outbreaks are a threat to human health and impact biodiversity and the environment. Projected increases in global temperatures driven by increasing carbon dioxide are expected to trigger new outbreaks of disease in diverse communities and biomes. Our Disease and Climate Network at Cornell University will conduct research and promote external collaborations to address the critical challenges of climate change on species diversity, conservation and health.

Coral Reef Ecosystems

In the ocean, both temperate and tropical invertebrates have been threatened by temperature-related disease outbreaks. In particular, coral reefs are an entire ecosystem endangered globally by warming and temperature-sensitive disease outbreaks. One third of all coral species are at risk for extinction. Harvell’s group studied massive coral mortality and disease outbreaks in the Caribbean in 2005, the warmest summer/fall season recorded for the eastern Caribbean in a hundred years. Primary Investigator: Drew Harvell

Amphibian Biodiversity

In terrestrial ecosystems, communities of amphibians have been driven to extinction by outbreaks of chytridiomycosis, a fungal infection caused by the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Amphibian species are threatened worldwide, with nearly half of all species declining in their range of distribution. Infectious diseases have caused some of the most rapid and severe declines, in some cases wiping out entire communities. Zamudio and colleagues are studying Bd in Central and South American Highlands, to elucidate the interaction between Bd strains, host immunity, and ecological factors that curb or promote disease in different populations. Primary Investigator: Kelly Zamudio

Human Health

In the last decade, linking disease outbreaks with environmental drivers has been an area of intense activity, in part because of implications for human health. For human vector-borne diseases, we might expect the range and activity of mosquitoes and amplification rates of pathogens they vector, such as malaria Plasmodium and dengue viruses, to increase with warmer temperatures. Recently, Harrington and colleagues have developed models for forecasting mosquito population trends for disease vectors in the Northeastern USA that accurately predict short-term trends in vector population dynamics. Primary Investigator: Laura Harrington

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