Climate Change and Disease Ecology

Released: 8/1/2007 9:00 AM EDT
Embargo expired: 8/9/2007 3:05 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Ecological Society of America
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Citations ESA/SER 2007 Joint Meeting

Newswise — Climate change complicates everything. In addition to the much-talked about sea-level rise and its possible consequences, climate change has been implicated in the recent emergence of several infectious diseases. Drawing from a wide range of case studies that illustrate the potential effects of climate on disease dynamics, a series of presentations to be held at the joint meeting of the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Ecological Restoration will showcase what scientists are discovering about the links between climate and disease.

Organized by Chris Ray and Sharon Collinge (University of Colorado-Boulder), "Climate change and disease ecology: Challenges to the restoration and maintenance of suitable pestilence" will also address the complicating factor of climate in efforts to restore damaged ecosystems.

"Long-term changes in climate and short-term climatic disruptions will continue to alter the distribution and prevalence of infectious diseases," says Ray. "And the frequency of short-term climatic disruptions appears to be on the rise."

The session will explore a wide range of diseases, from those affecting marine habitat to those that sicken people, such as malaria.

John Bruno (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) will review the trends for such coral diseases as White Syndrome and Caribbean Yellow Band Syndrome. Temperature anomalies, which are predicted to increase in most tropical oceans, appear to increase the severity of such disease outbreaks, which lead to loss of reef habitat.

Globally, amphibian populations have been on the decline and numerous factors appear to be at work in contributing to their downward trend. Karen Lips (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) will review the evidence of climate change triggering disease outbreaks such as chytridiomycosis. Untangling the mystery of the various possible threats to amphibians is confounding, particularly in high elevation tropical areas.
Native great gerbils in Central Asia are a carrier of the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the bacterium which causes bubonic plague. Nils Stenseth (University of Oslo, Norway) will review over 45 years of field data that show warmer springs and wetter summers increases the prevalence of Y. pestis in gerbils. Stenseth suggests that climatic change will render conditions more favorable for human plague, which is still reported regularly in Central Asia.

Exploring how climate may affect another disease of concern to people, Nicholas Ogden (Public Health Agency of Canada) will address Canada's concern about Lyme disease, as the tick vector Ixodes scapularis expands its range. The United States already suffered an epidemic of Lyme disease, which emerged in the late 1970s and peaked in 2002 when over 21,000 cases were reported. Canadian public health officials hope to avoid a similar epidemic by predicting the scope and likely direction of Lyme disease expansion.

Organizers Ray and Collinge say that their session will also mark the first step in efforts to reach a wider audience: a less technical book based on interviews with the presenters and other scientists and land managers.

Other panelists in the session are: Karen Garrett (Kansas State University), Mercedes Pascual (University of Michigan), Michael Begon (University of Liverpool, UK), and Tord Snall (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences).

For more information about this session and other ESA Meeting activities, visit: http://www.esa.org/sanjose/. The theme of the meeting is "Ecology-based restoration in a changing world" and some 4,000 scientists are expected to attend.


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