Mammalian host biodiversity and filovirus spillover risk in Africa

Ebola and other filoviruses are multi-host pathogens that can infect a wide variety of species, and filovirus emergence presents a pressing threat to human health.  Presumably areas that contain large numbers of host species that are susceptible to filoviruses or that contain key reservoir species (such as bats) in high abundance are also areas where the risk of transmission from wild animals to humans is high.  However, this hypothesis has rarely been tested.  Using data on the location of past spillover events of Ebola, Marburg virus, and other filoviruses in Africa, the goal of this project will be to test what aspects of mammalian host biodiversity (e.g., variation in  mammalian species richness, phylogenetic diversity, or ecological diversity) have the greatest impact on spillover risk.  Mammalian host data will be drawn from a variety of published sources such as PanTHERIA (a species level database of mammalian trait data) and species range data compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The project will involve compiling large data sets and analyzing them using the R programming language. 

Project Mentor: Patrick Stephens
Type of Project: Quantitative/Computer-based