How Do People Affect Zoonotic Disease Dynamics in Madagascar? (2018-2019)


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. Human subsistence activities and population growth are encroaching on the protected rainforest in the area. The project team will synthesize evidence on how human activities influence infectious disease risk globally, collect new data on infectious diseases in humans, domesticated animals and wild mammals and identify policy actions that reduce disease risk and conserve biodiversity.

In Madagascar, the team will test specific hypotheses for how land-use decisions alter ecological communities and influence disease transmission. Team members will assess the factors that lead some humans to experience greater risk of acquiring infectious diseases from wild animals. The team will answer the following questions: What are the impacts of protected areas on disease mitigation as an ecosystem service? How do different types of land use influence small mammal communities and inferred transmission pathways? Do socioeconomic factors influence which people are at greatest risk of acquiring infectious diseases from wildlife? 

Anticipated Outcomes

Two publications (one original research article and one review) with graduate and undergraduate students as co-authors; individual honors and master’s theses on research results; data for future grant submissions


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: Field research and data collection for 12 weeks in Madagascar
  • Fall 2018: Course on Advances in Disease Ecology; prepare short presentations of research and lead discussions of papers; analyze data, write reports and research articles, use preliminary results in external grant proposals
  • Spring 2019: Write up results in the style of a scientific publication, present results at local and international conferences

Team Outcomes to Date

Ecological Modeling for Public Health: Predicting Hotspots of Human and Vector Contact in Rural Madagascar (poster by Ryan Fitzgerald, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

Understanding Social Networks for Disease Transmission and Information Interventions in Rural Madagascar (poster by Ajile Owens, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)


Ryan Fitzgerald: Global Health and Biology ’19

Ajilé Owens: Global Health and Sociology ’19

Lisa Regula: Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology ’20

This Team in the News

“Truly Phenomenal” Doctoral Student and “Unparalleled” Postdoc Honored for Outstanding Mentorship

Two Months in Madagascar Studying the Ecology of Infectious Diseases

Mammals, Diseases and the Human Dimension: Collaborative Research in Madagascar

Bass Connections in the SAVA

Scenes from Madagascar

Team Leaders

  • James Herrera, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Charles Nunn, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology

/graduate Team Members

  • Courtni France, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Sachiko Oshima, Medicine MD Second Year

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ryan Fitzgerald, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)
  • Lissa Neira, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Ajile Owens, Sociology (AB), Global Health (AB2)
  • Lisa Regula, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS), Biology (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Michelle Pender, Duke Global Health Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Duke Lemur Center SAVA Conservation Initiative
  • Malagasy Institute Pour La Conservation des Ecosystemes Tropical