Investigating links between forest fragmentation and Ebola virus disease
West and Central Africa
The ERM Foundation is working with the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA), a Sierra Leone-based conservation NGO, to research suspected links between forest fragmentation and Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreaks in humans. The idea for the ERM Foundation-sponsored study arose from various reports suggesting that fragmented forest landscapes may increase frontiers of contact between human populations and animals that carry the Ebola virus. Our research looked at a number of index case locations, where the Ebola virus first jumped from its 'host' (hypothesized to be a species of bat) into the human population.
A team of ERM's GIS experts looked at the most recent outbreak, which started in Guinea, alongside six historical outbreaks across West and Central Africa. The team undertook a satellite imagery-modelling exercise that has mapped and analyzed trends in forest fragmentation at the time of each outbreak and reviewed historic trends in land use and forest fragmentation in the 30-year period leading up to certain outbreaks. We also analyzed the impact these conditions may have on bat ecology and the human-animal interface.
Initial results from the modelling suggest that a specific configuration of forest fragmentation parameters may correlate with outbreaks of EVD in humans. A wider sample size through additional case studies is required to corroborate the initial findings; however, if an indicator were isolated that identified where new outbreaks seemed most likely to occur, this could be fed into post-EVD recovery planning and forest management policies.
The initial research findings have been presented in a report to stimulate debate among stakeholders on effective EVD risk prevention and a more sustainable approach to natural resources and forest management.