Dr. Paula Prist, EcoHealth Alliance Scientist, Wins British Ecological Society journal prize

MAY 1, 2023 – The British Ecological Society (BES) has announced the winners of its journal prizes for research published in 2022. The prizes are awarded for the best paper by an early career researcher in seven of the BES journals: Journal of Applied Ecology, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, Functional Ecology, People and Nature, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Journal of Ecology and Journal of Animal Ecology. The Southwood Prize is awarded each year for the best paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology written by an early career author at the start of their research career.

Dr. Paula Prist from EcoHealth Alliance has been awarded this year’s Southwood Prize for the paper: Roads and forest edges facilitate yellow fever virus dispersion

In the winning study, Paula and co-authors explored how landscape structure affects yellow fever virus dispersion through its vector, mosquitoes. Understanding this can aid better landscape planning and better organisation of vaccination campaigns.

Paula and co-authors found that yellow fever virus disperses on average 1.42 km every day and uses roads adjacent to forest areas and forest edges along agricultural areas to disperse. In contrast, core areas of forest regions were found to be important barriers for virus movement.

1. Could you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you got into ecology?

I am Brazilian and was born in the city of São Paulo. Despite coming from one of the biggest cities in the world, I grew up surrounded by animals in the Cantareira Forest, a tropical forest only 30 minutes away from the city. In this place, besides living with our feet on the ground, slipping in the mud, we lived surrounded by howler monkeys, small cats, coatis, caracara and many other animals. This contact with nature made me grow passionate about fauna and nature, and trying to understand the complex relationships that form ecology became my professional dream.

2. Can you provide a few sentences that summarise the research in your paper and how it advances the field? Please write with a broad audience in mind.

In this research, we tried to understand how landscape structure affects yellow fever virus dispersion, and consequently, disease risk. Landscape structure is important for a wide range of ecological processes, including to disease spread, once it can facilitate or impede vector (mosquitoes) dispersion. By understanding through which elements of the landscape a vector can move, and at what speed, can allow not only for a better landscape planning, but also to a better organization of vaccination campaigns or other preventive measures. In this research, we saw that Yellow fever Virus disperses on average 1.42 km every day, and uses roads adjacent to forest areas, and along forest edges (within a range of 100 m) in interface with agricultural areas to disperse. We also found that core areas of forest regions were important barriers for virus movement. This study shows that potentially, protected areas and other large forest areas can be an important barrier to the virus, contributing to the provision of disease regulation services and to the maintenance of human health.

3. Have you continued this research and if so, where are you at now with it?

This research continued indirectly. Our results brought many more questions (as expected) and inspired new research that is now funded by NSF-Fapesp and has a team of amazing researchers involved (Leandro Tambosi, Florencia Sangermano, Cecilia Andreazzi, Marina Bueno, Mirela D´Arc, André Santos e muitos outros). In this research we are trying to understand how both the loss and gain of tropical forests affect the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. This project will run for three years, and we are currently in year 1 – getting ready to start field collection. The ultimate goal is to provide guidelines for the formation of multifunctional landscapes, which manage not only to maintain biodiversity but also to maintain the regulation of important ecosystem services, such as disease regulation.

4. What did you enjoy most about conducting this research?

The intense collaboration with researchers from the health department (Pasteur Institute), Adolfo Lutz Institute and others, and try to understand how the landscape structure can modulate the transmission of a mosquito-borne virus, such as yellow fever.

5. Were there any funny experiences our surprising discoveries from this research?

To me the most surprising finding, and one that may have important implications for any landscape change, especially for restoration projects, is that connectivity can be negative for human health and can facilitate the spread of yellow fever virus, and potentially other diseases. Another surprising result is that these corridors may only act as movement facilitators if they are smaller than 150 meters in width. This makes it possible for us to start designing guidelines for more appropriate landscape management, enabling the provision of disease regulation services.

Comments from Nathalie Pettorelli (Senior Editor)

Much has been said about the connections between the biodiversity and the human health crises, yet, practical evidence of these connections remains relatively rare. As such, this research by Prist and colleagues represents an important contribution towards advancing our understanding of the processes by which the loss of biodiversity can enhance disease spread. In turn, this paper provides important insights into how landscape fragmentation facilitates yellow fever virus propagation.

Crucially, the study also demonstrates that the maintenance of large blocks of forest can help to inhibit this spread, thereby generating information that can guide forest restoration and landscape management to amplify the health benefits of these interventions. As such, this work by Prist and colleagues not only advances the field of ecology, but also leads to concrete management recommendations – making it a fabulous example of the type of papers Journal of Applied Ecology seeks to publish.

*Text courtesy of the British Ecological Society*