Assessing the health status and the causes, distribution and consequences of diseases in wildlife populations

The health status of wildlife populations may be impaired by pathogens and diseases or by natural or anthropogenic sources of stress. Despite substantial progress, the aetiology and pathogenesis of many wildlife diseases remain unclear. This research focus elucidates the distribution of important wildlife diseases in free-ranging and captive wildlife populations and clarifies the pathogenesis of these diseases as well as their immunological and genetic basis. In close coordination with ecological and epidemiological studies, a second task is to assess the influence of morbidity and causes of mortality on the dynamics of wildlife populations. These aspects permit the characterisation of the health status and ‘stress’ load (allostatic load) of wildlife populations. Infectious diseases and allostatic loads often originate in the contact zone between wildlife and human activities. This may involve human disturbance, zoonoses, diseases transmissible between domestic animals and wildlife, wildlife diseases in living collections or anthropogenic effects that transmit diseases or impose burdens of other kinds on wildlife populations. Studies on the occurrence and distribution of pathogens and infectious diseases in captive or free-ranging wildlife populations and the degree and the causes of anthropogenic ‘stress’ are therefore an important tool for an objective assessment of the effects of human activities on wildlife populations. Because these studies concern pathogen transmission between wildlife, people and domestic animals, they also provide valuable insights for comparative studies in veterinary and human medicine.