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Social-ecological Networks and Zoonotic Disease in Rural Madagascar (2019-2020)




June 01, 2019 - March 31, 2020

Project Objectives

This project will investigate the links between biodiversity, infectious disease and human health in a rural community in Madagascar. Research has documented conflicting associations between land use change and infectious disease risk, with some studies finding that deforestation increases disease risk for humans, while other studies find the opposite pattern. It is critically important to make sense of these conflicting patterns.

One approach is to design studies that elucidate the mechanisms that drive associations between land use change and infectious disease risk for humans. One such mechanism is that deforestation alters wildlife communities by reducing habitat for native species and introducing invasive species, thus changing the disease dynamics of biological systems. The specific effects of human activities on disease, however, depend on the intensity of land use, the original biodiversity and other factors.

Project Description
This Bass Connections project will investigate how human land-use decisions affect the small mammal community and disease transmission around the Marojejy National Park where human subsistence activities and population growth are encroaching on the protected rainforest in the area.

The 2018-2019 team found strong evidence that deforestation alters wildlife communities and changes the disease dynamics of biological systems. Building on this research, the 2019-2020 team will continue to sample small mammals for infectious disease, expanding to new habitats, and extend research to better understand how human social networks and patterns of infection interface with the ecological setting.

By building new partnerships with Malagasy veterinarians and medical workers, team members will generate new data on infectious diseases in humans and domesticated animals; collect new survey data from multiple villages, including GPS data, to build social networks and integrate humans into ecological networks of wild and domesticated animals; expand collection of small mammals and increase screening for infectious diseases; and identify policy actions that reduce disease risk and conserve biodiversity.

Anticipated Outputs
Manuscripts for publication; honors and master’s theses; template and best practices for cross-cultural exchange; follow-up seminar course on biodiversity, disease and network analysis open to all Duke students

Project Opportunities

Student Opportunities
Ideally, this team will include 3 undergraduates and 2 graduate students from Evolutionary Anthropology, Biology, Sociology and Global Health. Students from the Nicholas School are also encouraged to apply.

We also plan to engage one Malagasy student through our collaborations with the Malagasy NGO MICET and our partnership with the University of Antananarivo.

This project includes a summer research component with fieldwork in Madagascar. All students on the team will participate in fieldwork. Ideally, selected students will be able to participate in the entirety of the summer research, including 10 weeks in the field (between June and August 2019). However, under special circumstances, we can include students who cannot participate in the full field season.

While in Madagascar, students on the team will learn about research design, field data collection and communicating science to the public. Students will also undertake specific educational activities, including field data collection methodology, communicating findings and knowledge to villagers and interacting with Malagasy students and National Park staff. Team members will also engage with the local rural communities, informing residents about the project, advising on general health guidelines, and learning about local culture, history and ethnoecology.

Back at Duke, students will meet biweekly for lectures, interactive discussions, outdoor exercises and guest lectures. In Fall 2019, students may enroll in Advances in Disease Ecology and Network Analysis, which will involve teamwork-based activities, vertical integration and original research using existing data.

All students on the team will learn theory in ecology, evolutionary, disease ecology, epidemiology, conservation history, policy and practice and ecosystem services.

Summer 2019-Spring 2020

Summer 2019: Student travel to Madagascar for 10 weeks of field research; reflect and write about experience for web publication
Fall 2019: Help design and plan Biodiversity, Global Health and Network Analysis course for Duke undergraduates; analyze data; literature and article analysis
Spring 2020: Continue to analyze data; develop research presentations and team poster

Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available.

Project Application Process

Interested students should complete the application process through the Bass Connections portal. Please note that the application window will open on January 22 and close on February 15. Program leaders will be available to discuss projects with interested students at the Bass Connections Open house on January 22. Details can be found at https://bassconnections.duke.edu.

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