Department of Wildlife Diseases: Research Focus

Wildlife microbes make up the largest part of the total pathogen diversity worldwide - far more than those that infect humans and domesticated animals. However, zoonosis research (zoonoses are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) usually focuses on the transmission of pathogens from wild animals to humans. The adaptability of microorganisms, the variety of possible host reactions and the adaptability of the host in nature are underestimated. Conservation programs might not succeed if disease and health aspects of the animals are not taken into account.

In our research we focus on the pathogens and pollutants circulating among or which have spilled back into wildlife and their impact on wildlife hosts. In doing so, we examine the individual (case studies), the populations and the species level. The analysis ranges from rough anatomical evaluation to detailed molecular approaches using "-omics technologies", depending on the research question or the hypothesis to be tested. Research in the department is interdisciplinary and represents veterinary medicine and biology. Many projects have their roots in the ecological or evolutionary sciences, which are crucial for understanding diseases beyond the individual case. One focus is the study of factors that influence immunity and general host defence, including the adaptation of hosts to different environments and pathogens. Our research focuses on the pathogen-host relationship; therefore, many projects require the study of multiple hosts and complex pathogen-host transmission networks. This is the case, for example, in the study of microbial adaptability and the evolutionary and ecological factors underlying host response. The majority of projects are long-term studies and often include fieldwork.

The knowledge we generate about wildlife diseases and public health supports conservation efforts. We work closely with zoological gardens, wildlife managers and other stakeholders to support their work scientifically.