This project analyzes the historical development of the field of Disease Ecology, which is a distinctive approach to understanding and controlling disease outbreaks. The view to be explored in this project is the extent which disease ecology had its roots in quantitative population biology and animal ecology. The analysis is it developed in the context of the Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague (so named in 1894), which killed far fewer people than previous pandemics, even though human activities spread the disease quickly over a much greater area of the globe. Between the 1890s and 1980s, the plague invaded and infected wild animal populations, and it was widely feared that these animal "reservoirs" of disease could be a permanent source of infection for humans. Veterinarians, tropical medicine specialists, ecologists and local workers formed a global network of researchers and public health officials who tested and honed ecological models and methods. Along with its public health role, disease ecology played an important part in shaping the science of ecology and in assessing microbes' fitness and use as biological weapons at mid-century (1940s-60s). After a period of quiescence during which plague outbreaks receded (1960s-1980s), disease ecology has become important again with the re-emergence of diseases such as influenza, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and BSE.
Intellectual Merit The project analyzes an important interdisciplinary network of scientists involved in global circulations of scientific knowledge about ecology and disease. It addresses several important questions. How did this network overcome geographical, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries? What role did vernacular knowledge play in the development and applications of disease ecology? Aiming to be a foundational history of disease ecology, this project serves as a fresh approach to the history of ecology and informs our understanding of how ecological knowledge has circulated among various disciplines over the past century. The project bridges a needless divide between historians of science (who have written about ecology) and historians of medicine (who have written about disease). The project revises historical analysis by bridging these sub-disciplines and their constituent subjects (human and animal). Its trans-disciplinary approach follows that of the disease ecologists themselves.
Broader Impacts This project also addresses a broader audience of public health officials, scientists and laypeople concerned about the global spread of infectious disease. International health and wildlife conservation organizations use the models of disease ecology to assess the dynamic interactions at the human-animal-ecosystems interface. This project demonstrates how and why practicing disease ecologists have come to rely upon a priori mathematical models and what has been lost in the process (including local social and spatial conditions; and climate change and other variables important to future outbreaks). The PI is disseminating results through public lectures, a book, articles, and a website (educational materials for public dissemination); a new university course (integrating research activities into teaching); graduate student training (including underrepresented groups); and participation in a National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis Working Group, which integrates research into state, federal and private-sector partnerships.