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Project aims to limit pathogen spread from pet amphibians

A new research project funded by the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program has been designed to identify strategies to minimize the risk of pathogens spreading from pet amphibians to wildlife. Researchers at the University of Tennessee Knoxville have received $2.75 million in funding to investigate the spread of pathogens in wildlife trade networks.

The spread of new infectious diseases has become a major focus since the emergence of Covid-19. According to the researchers, the goal of the new study is to identify how socio-economic decisions and pathogen dynamics impact each other in a wildlife trade network.

“It is important to study how human values and knowledge impact behavior in preventing transmission of pathogens within and beyond the trade network,” said study principle investigator Neelam Poudyal, associate director of the UT One Health Initiative.

“This study will enable us to understand factors that determine human decisions to engage in biosecurity practices, assess the feasibility of market-based mechanisms to promote healthy trade, and characterize the public value of protecting natural populations of amphibian biodiversity.”

Over the next five years, the experts will analyze what aspects of the wildlife trade, like species composition and the number of animals, influence the emergence of pathogens

The experts noted that with more than 2.5 million live animals moving throughout more than 180 nations per year, the need for advanced pathogen mitigation is critical.

“Global and domestic trade of wildlife is one of the major pathways for movement and introduction of wildlife and zoonotic pathogens,” said co-principal investigator Professor Matt Gray. “Our research is focusing on amphibian pathogens in trade but will be used as a model for other pathogens of concern.”

“Especially as global trade markets have become more interconnected, we’ve seen over and over again how animal trade practices can either foster or else help prevent the emergence of infectious disease outbreaks in wildlife and people, sometimes with devastating effects,” said Nina Fefferman, director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.

“Our work to discover how people make choices about how they buy, transport, and sell animals and how that shapes pathogen dynamics will help us guide policies to support conservation and prevent the next global pandemic.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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