The outstanding biodiversity within tropical regions of the world continues to overwhelm me after heartfelt attempts to understand the inctricate biology at work in these places. Perhaps even more mind blowing are the nearly infinite and integral interactions between organisms and how those interactions change over time. Though in reality, what is more interesting to me (and what may be more pressing for our world) is how interactions between organisms change amidst the growth of the human species and the currently unsustainable consumption of resources.
My research attempted to explore one of these macro and microorganismal interactions: the transmission of pathogens between insects and mammals, including humans. I will share three important observations, each with an accompanying picture.
Number 1. Even subsistence agricultural is a driver of deforestation.
It's often times the corporate suits on the chopping block for deforestation. Yet all the evident destruction of the bush in the Buvuma Islands seems to be the result of subsistence agricultural operations or income generation via charcoal. So how do we begin to preserve our forests when the clearing of the land could mean massive payoffs in terms of the development of communities nearby? In the picture, you can see a rice paddy in the sad shadows of a few remaining jungle trees.
Number 2. Agriculture amidst fragmented forests is a goldmine for primates.
What happens when agricultural operations fragment forests? What is the result of this new agro-forest ecosystem? Primates, like the one in the next picture, are forced to exit their shrinking local habitats in search of food, which for the primate happens to be right next door.
Number 3. Primates near the garden could mean pathogens in the home.
The most direct transmission of pathogens between primates and humans is direct tissue to tissue contact, but in my experience it rarely happened. More evident were less direct exposures like the one in the picture. The day I arrived on Lingira Island, I found Jack with a bite wound from a red colobus. Yet it led to another dead end after learning the dogs in the area rarely bit humans. Then I stumbled upon a key observation -- a different canine with an infant red colobus in its teeth. Is is possible the canine could have given an endearing lick to the nearest child only moments after crushing the body of this primate? I believe it's very possible case-based evidence for primate-human pathogen transmission between a canine carrier. The transmission, however, could be even less direct. Near the end of my research, I learned that primates bring a number of known insect vectors out of the bush and into agricultural operations where both farmers and guard dogs sit exposed to illnesses like African sleeping sickness and maybe even malaria.
So many questions, so many connections, so many interactions. Much more to learn.
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