Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #282152


Location: Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory

Title: The emerging infectious disease crisis and pathogen pollution: a question of ecology and evolution

item Brooks, Daniel
item Hoberg, Eric

Submitted to: Cambridge University Press
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/5/2012
Publication Date: 2/1/2013
Citation: Brooks, D.R., Hoberg, E.P. 2013. The emerging infectious disease crisis and pathogen pollution: a question of ecology and evolution. In: Rohde, K., editor. The balance of nature and human impact. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 215-229.

Interpretive Summary: Emerging infectious diseases (EID) represent a considerable expanding and ongoing challenge for human health, veterinary medicine and conservation on a global scale. Resolution of this threat to society resides in recognizing and mitigating the factors that serve to drive EID: (1) Burgeoning human population, (2) ecological change, and (3) globalization, particularly rapid transport of people and animals. These factors are strongly interacting and determine the potential for EID under accelerated climate change. EID generally result from what is called a breakdown in either ecological or biogeographic isolation which then promote shifts by parasites among their typical and “new” hosts. Evolutionary and ecological mechanisms are involved in these so called host switches, which are common events in the course of Earth history. Understanding the potential for EID is achieved through biodiversity survey and inventory which establishes the structure of ecosystems and the distribution of species diversity. Given that we have only documented perhaps 10% of the worlds pathogens and parasites, such activities are vital as a first and critical step in defining the potential for EID in space and time. Conceptually, this understanding of EID is of importance to the medical community, veterinary medicine, animal producers, and society in general, as mitigation and adaptation to these processes only emanates from knowledge of the distribution of global biodiversity.

Technical Abstract: Risk of emerging infectious diseases (EID) on a global scale has accelerated over the past 10,000 years in conjunction with agriculture, domestication, and globalization as the interfaces for people and environments have been altered over time. EID exist at the junction of 3 ongoing global challenges: (1) burgeoning human populations that influence land use and the potential for rapid translocation of pathogens global climate change; (2) environmental perturbation resulting in considerable reorganization for ecosystems and biodiversity; and (3). Technologies that enhance rapid movements for people, animals and pathogens on regional to global scales. These drivers occur and interact within a matrix established by climate and accelerated climate change. An unfolding crisis for EID is a medical/veterinary issue only in a superficial sense. Fundamentally, EID is an evolutionary and ecological issue and a predictable consequence of species that evolved in relative isolation being brought into close contact with breakdown in mechanisms for biogeographic and ecological isolation. Today, human activity accelerates the rate of introduction of species, and modifications to ecosystems, so host shifts for pathogens and disease outbreaks occur more frequently and over broader geographic areas. Accurate definitions of global biodiversity and the pathways for geographic introduction represent fundamental knowledge and baselines necessary to recognize and predict EID in space and time.