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Humans making wildlife sick

Whether it's monkeys and AIDS or mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus, we're used to thinking of wildlife as reservoirs for emerging infectious human diseases. But a Canadian mathematical biologist says that it's time that we turned the tables as often as not, it's humans that are making the wildlife sick, often to our own detriment.

It's a 180-degree turn in perspective that Dr. Mark Lewis says is critical to our understanding of emerging infectious diseases of both wildlife and humans. And, he says, in the case of at least one ocean-based disease outbreak, biology and math are proving to be powerful allies in helping stem the growing tide of an ocean plague.

"With emerging infectious diseases of wildlife today there's almost always some human component," say Dr. Lewis, an NSERC-funded mathematical ecologist in the mathematics and statistics department at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Dr. Lewis' lab group has used mathematical mapping tools, often in collaboration with other research groups, to document the spread of pests from the West Nile Virus to the Mountain Pine Beetle in Pacific Northwest forests.

Last year, in a landmark paper, he helped document how commercial salmon farms off Canada's British Columbia coast are a breeding ground for sea lice, a parasite that then infects young wild Pacific salmon. The research was the first to document the parasitic impact of commercial salmon farms on wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Lewis and University of Alberta doctoral student Marty Krkosek, who led the sea lice research, are co-presenting their latest sea lice and salmon findings as part of a symposium called The Rising Tide of Ocean Plagues, February 17 at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.

Dr. Lewis is a leader in applying mathematical tools to modelling environmental interactions, from carnivore territoriality to risk analysis rela
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Contact: Mark Lewis
mlewis@math.ualberta.ca
780-492-0197
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
17-Feb-2006


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