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


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


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

Team Outputs to Date

Biodiversity and Infectious Disease in Madagascar (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Social Determinants of Health in Rural Madagascar: Wealth, Social Networks, and Access to Health Care (poster by Courtni France, Stephanie Green, Danielle Lodge, Miranda Metz)

Barriers to Healthcare in Rural Madagascar (poster by Courtni France, Miranda Metz, Stephanie Green, presented at Global Health Showcase, Duke University, November 4, 2019)

Biodiversity, Land Use Change and Human Health: Evidence from Northeastern Madagascar (poster by Michelle Pender, presented at Triangle Global Health Annual Conference, Durham, NC, October 16, 2019)

Project team website

This Team in the News

Reflections on the Class of 2020

Care, Connection and Community: Investigating Health Access and Policy in Rural Madagascar 

One Health in the SAVA Region

See earlier related project, How Do People Affect Zoonotic Disease Dynamics in Madagascar? (2018-2019).


Image: Marojejy National Park, courtesy of Digital Development Communications

Marojejy National Park.

Team Leaders

  • James Herrera, Duke Lemur Center – SAVA Conservation
  • 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
  • Erika Munshi, Master of Environmental Management

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Stephanie Green
  • Danielle Lodge, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Miranda Metz, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • James Moody, Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Michelle Pender, Duke Global Health Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

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