The One Health framework recognizes the interconnection between the health of animals, humans and ecosystems. Wildlife are animals and are susceptible to diseases. At the same time, wildlife are also key components of our ecosystems. Studying wildlife health therefore provides an excellent platform from which to contribute to a One Health approach. For example, wildlife play an important role at the disease interface between animals, humans and the environment.
Diseases and infectious agents found in wildlife may impact wildlife populations, domestic animals, humans and/or ecosystems. Recent examples in Sweden include highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and mammals, African Swine Fever in wild boar and rabbit hemorrhagic disease in wild rabbits and hares. Wildlife are also integral parts of our natural ecosystems, so they help maintain biodiversity and provide ecosystem services. Diseases in wildlife therefore can have negative ecological, economic and social impacts. Finally, wildlife can also serve as excellent sentinels for the health of our shared environments. Sound wildlife health knowledge and effective wildlife health and disease surveillance therefore can help inform management of wildlife health threats.
Much of our knowledge on wildlife health and disease comes from research and surveillance of terrestrial wildlife. However, more than two thirds of our planet is covered by water. As top predators, marine mammals reflect the health of our marine environments. Changes in their health and disease status or life history parameters such as reproduction and diet often signal environmental change or other anthropogenic impacts. Additionally, marine mammals are susceptible to pathogen pollution and spillover infections from other sources and can be the source of infectious agents for other animal species and humans. Including marine mammals in wildlife health and disease surveillance and research broadens our capacity to understand and mitigate wildlife health threats in our diverse ecosystems.
In my docent lecture, I will introduce wildlife health and implications of wildlife disease for sectors within the One Health framework. While I work broadly with wildlife health and disease surveillance, I will specifically address how we can learn from marine mammals to provide insights on their health, diseases and other threats they face, and how these threats may impact their populations, other animal species, humans and ecosystems. This lecture will also highlight current knowledge gaps and present future research needs.