This project integrates ecology, economics, sociology and public health to illuminate and predict a) how human health and household wealth separately and interactively affect human reliance on biodiversity, and b) how harvested biodiversity impacts household wealth and human health. Data collection occurs at the level of individuals and households at nine rural sites in Ghana, Kenya and Madagascar where, like many regions of the world, communities are economically marginalized and the sustainable use of natural resources is essential to livelihoods, health and survival. The systems-based model developed through this integration across disciplines will provide a framework to compare the relative importance of ecological, socioeconomic or health factors for the sustainability of ecosystems and societies. Furthermore, by quantifying and incorporating nonlinear and coupled feedbacks among human and natural systems this model also will inform efforts to assess the immediate and long term impacts of environmental and social shocks (e.g., climate change, drought, fisheries collapse, disease emergence, social unrest) on resource and livelihood sustainability.
In addition to bringing together a group of researchers who venture beyond disciplinary boundaries to build a new model of integration, this project will have direct and prolonged impacts on education, international collaboration, capacity building, health outcomes, poverty alleviation and sustainability. The project?s commitment to outreach, engagement and capacity building in Africa ensures that it will provide invaluable international experience to U.S.-based students and lifelong collaborations and associations for all individuals and institutions involved in the research effort. Project results and the framework created by this research will be of great practical value to agencies (e.g., USAID, FAO, WHO, UNEP, IUCN) and non-governmental organizations (e.g., WCS, CI, WWF, CARE, CRS) who can provide policy pathways for poverty alleviation, natural resource sustainability, economic development, biodiversity conservation, and the improvement of health outcomes.