EcoHealth Alliance Awarded Over $200k to Address Challenges in Biodiversity Science

On January 1st, work started for the NSF-funded program Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP)EcoHealth Alliance was awarded a $263,801 grant to study Land use change, ecosystem resilience and zoonotic spillover risk. This research is done in partnership with Clark University, the Federal University of ABC, and in collaboration with FioCruz Institute. The project will run for three years.

Marsupial Photo by Dr. Paula Prist

Abstract: Land use change, ecosystem resilience and zoonotic spillover risk

Dr. Paula Prist, EcoHealth Senior Research Scientist and Project Collaborator

Habitat loss leads to cascading effects on the abundance, composition, and ecology of fauna and flora. These changes affect species interactions and ecological function and services, including zoonotic spillover (the transmission of a pathogen from a vertebrate animal to a human). Forest restoration has become increasingly recognized as important to mitigate ecosystem services loss, including zoonotic disease outbreaks, and prevent future pandemics. However, analysis of global data on disease emergence shows that the risk of novel zoonoses increases with both deforestation and reforestation. The Brazilian Atlantic Forest is biodiversity and rodent diversity rich, and most rodent species are considered reservoirs for pathogens. Because of this, the area is a potential hotspot for future emerging infectious diseases. 

At the same time, the Atlantic Forest has a highly dynamic forest cover, with thousands of hectares experiencing deforestation and restoration every year. These dynamics make the area an ideal scenario for studying the effects of landscape changes, both habitat lost and gain, on small mammal communities and their consequences for zoonotic disease spillover. Therefore, this research aims to understand how habitat loss and habitat gain affect biodiversity, viral diversity and consequently spillover risk. 

Specifically, this project has two main objectives: 1) To understand how habitat loss and landscape structure affect functional diversity, viral diversity, network composition, and zoonotic spillover risk; and 2) To understand how forest restoration can reinstate functional diversity, ecosystem resilience, and the provision of disease regulation services. 

These results will provide information to delineate policies and guidelines to maintain and create landscapes which can conserve biodiversity and deliver health-provisioning ecosystem services, especially to forest restoration projects, ensuring win-win benefits. Knowledge of the effects of land-use change on spillover risk is essential, as zoonotic diseases have complex transmission cycles involving agents that respond differently to landscape changes. Understanding how restoration affects viral diversity and zoonotic risk is critical to developing win-win strategies to ensure healthy landscapes for humans and animals and to avoid new epidemics and pandemics.


Clark University
Point of Contact: Professor Florencia Sangermano
Federal University of ABC
Point of Contact: Professor Leandro Tambosi
FioCruz Institute
Points of Contact: Dra. Marina Bueno & Dra. Cecilia Andreasky

About EcoHealth Alliance:

EcoHealth Alliance is an international environmental health nonprofit dedicated to protecting wildlife and the public from emerging infectious diseases. We work with governments, scientists, and policymakers around the world to make critical changes for pandemic prediction and prevention. Our dedicated scientists conduct field research and develop tools to safeguard the health of the planet, people, and wildlife.

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