Disease Ecology

  • Microscopic view of dermo disease cells in oyster tissue

    Dermo (Perkinsus marinus) disease cells in oyster tissue.

Infectious diseases are a strong force that can affect individual organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems. Infectious diseases are caused by parasites and pathogens which can impair or even kill its host. Surprisingly, parasites and pathogens are a common and integral part of healthy ecosystems.

While not all parasitic infections cause disease, those that do cause disease can have severe effects – sometimes resulting in mass mortalities of particular hosts over wide areas. Disease outbreaks may be episodic in nature, or sustained over long periods of time. Thus, disease is often not a fixed outcome from infections but results from the interaction of parasite, host, and local environmental conditions, where particular changes can trigger strong detrimental effects on the host.

Disease ecology strives to understand the mechanisms and scale of pathogen impacts on host individuals, populations, communities and ultimately ecosystem function. The study of infectious diseases is a highly interdisciplinary field, drawing on genetics, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology and ecological modeling. Research at SERC takes an interdisciplinary approach to disease ecology, studying how biological, chemical and physical aspects of the environment – alone and working together – can influence disease distribution, transmission and intensity.