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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Using geospatial tools to investigate how deforestation affects the transmission of malaria in birds

PI: Anong Damian Nota (damian.anong@ubuea.cm), University of Buea
U.S. Partner: Thomas Smith, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Dates: November 2015 - October 2018

Project Overview

4-360 Nota_bird
Photo courtesy of Dr. Nota

This project addresses an unsolved problem in the field of emerging diseases: What are the proximal effects of large-scale deforestation on the transmission of vector-borne infectious diseases? The principal investigator and his team will approach this problem by studying malaria in natural populations of rainforest birds threatened by rapid environmental degradation in Cameroon. It is well established that deforestation poses a major threat to biodiversity in tropical regions; however, its effects on the spread of pathogens are largely uncharacterized. The team has previously identified malaria parasites, both generalists and specialists, in African rainforest birds, and they have found that it is the generalists that have the potential to jump to naïve hosts and develop as emerging diseases. They have also identified mosquito vectors of avian malaria and demonstrated that patterns of malaria diversity are significantly affected by habitat. With their knowledge of sectors presently zoned for logging, they thus have in place an unprecedented model system for investigating the effects of environmental change on disease transmission. They will test the hypotheses that (1) deforestation promotes an increase in ther prevalence of generalist parasites and (2) vector species distributions change with deforestation, and account for differences in prevalence of generalist vs. specialist parasites. The ultimate goal of this research is to discern the interplay among hosts, habitat, and vector ecology on the potential spread of novel pathogen strains. Another important objective is to determine how human-altered environments affect the feeding patterns of insect vectors and what environmental factors are important in determining likelihood of transmission. By applying the same type of relations before and after logging, they researchers should be able to predict where the vectors are likely to occur, where disease is likely to occur, and the patterns may change.

This work will capitalize on the U.S. Government-supported partner’s expertise in molecular biology, parasitology, entomology, and fieldwork and leverages the archive of blood samples that the he and his collaborators have accrued over nearly 30 years from African rainforest birds. 

Summary of Recent Activities

In this quarter, the PI’s project was interrupted by the outbreak of civil war in Cameroon.  

The PI has postponed all field work for now, and he and his team are focusing on analyzing previously collected mosquito samples back at their lab.



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