BIODIV-AFREID: Biodiversity changes in African forests and Emerging Infectious Diseases: should we worry?

Biodiversity in Afrotropical forests is declining dramatically due to deforestation and intensified bushmeat trade. At the same time there is an increased frequency of outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases (EID) that have a natural reservoir in wild small mammals. The effect of biodiversity changes on the risk of spillover of these EID to humans is not yet clear. Higher biodiversity may reduce transmission rates in the small mammal community (“dilution effect”) or may facilitate it (“amplification effect”). Biodiversity changes may also be associated with changes in human behaviour that affect contact rates with wildlife. BIODIV-AFREID will explore these relations in different forest sites in DR Congo and Côte d'Ivoire. The consortium consists of European and African partners with strong zoological, ecological, biomedical, virological and anthropological expertise, vast experience in field work in Africa and a history of earlier collaborations. We will investigate a range of viral pathogens but with a focus on two contrasting EID that are of major concern: Monkeypoxvirus (found in a variety of small mammals and with frequent human infections) and Ebola virus (with rare spillover events to humans and the reservoir not yet identified with certainty). In areas where these EID have been reported before, we will select sites with differences in forest degradation and bushmeat hunting and describe the biodiversity of small mammal communities (WP1) and the presence and prevalence of the viruses in these communities (WP2). The work will be based on newly collected material as well as considerable amounts of samples that different partners collected during earlier fieldwork. We will then test hypotheses about dilution and amplification effects (WP3) and about the ecological and anthropological conditions that facilitate spillover to humans (WP4). With the BIODIV-AFREID, the relations between biodiversity and emergence of new infectious will be better understood and these insights can form a basis for more targeted conservation and public health strategies.

This project is funded by the EU-Biodiversa programs and runs 2020-2022.

It is carried out by a consortium led by the University of Anytwerp and with partners from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels, Belgium), University of Kisangani (DR Congo), IRD-TransVIHMI (Montpellier, France), Robert Koch Institute (Berlin, Germany) and One Health for All (Bingerville, Ivory Coast).

For more information contact Herwig Leirs.