Dr. Kevin Olival
Vice President for Research
"Our activities take us to the farthest reaches of the planet to monitor wildlife health and draw linkages between humans, animals, and ecosystems. My work with bats strives to both conserve these ecologically beneficial animals and understand their role in the emergence of human diseases - with the ultimate goal of preventing the next pandemic."
Dr. Kevin Olival is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has been researching emerging infectious diseases for over a decade. He has been at the forefront of recent international investigations to understand the origins and transmission pathways of: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia; Ebola Reston virus in the Philippines; and Nipah virus in Bangladesh and Malaysia. He has managed wildlife conservation and disease research projects across Southeast Asia for over 10 years, with a strong focus on bat research. Dr. Olival’s role as Senior Research Scientist at EcoHealth Alliance involves coordinating the modeling and analytics research; integrating evolutionary and ecological theories to understand the drivers of disease emergence; and managing zoonotic disease surveillance efforts in Thailand and Indonesia under the USAID PREDICT project.
Some highlights from Kevin Olival’s research include detecting the first evidence for Ebola virus from bats in mainland Southeast Asia (Bangladesh); detecting MERS-CoV and related viruses in bats and advising the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats on this disease; understanding the circulation of Nipah virus in its natural fruit bat reservoirs; estimating viral diversity in mammals globally; and building models to predict zoonotic disease emergence. Dr. Olival has a unique blend of skills from the field, laboratory, and behind a computer that include ecological techniques to capture and survey bats, satellite telemetry of wildlife, field training courses in safe specimen handling and personal protective equipment (PPE), molecular biology techniques, phylogenetic analyses, and ecological modeling.
Dr. Olival graduated with distinction from Columbia University in 2008 with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a M.A. in Conservation Biology. His dissertation research focused on the population genetics and geographic distributions of large fruit bats in Southeast Asia, with implications for Nipah virus dynamics and emergence. He has conducted month-long expeditions to Southeast Asia doing fieldwork and managing projects working with local scientists and NGOs.
Dr. Olival completed a prestigious two-year NIH Fogarty U.S. Global Health Postdoctoral fellowship expanding EcoHealth Alliance’s work on the ecology of Nipah virus in Bangladesh. Dr. Olival has a passion for turning rigorous science into effective public policy, and aims to keep this as a central goal of his career path.
His research has been highlighted in The New York Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, Toronto Star, Wired, and National Geographic.