Dr. Alaina Pfenning-Butterworth is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Davies Lab at the Biodiversity Research Centre. Alaina studies how transmission of the plant disease Sudden Oak Death might change under different climate scenarios. Alaina is part of a working group integrating the understanding of climate change, biodiversity, and infectious diseases for better management strategies in the future.

I'm Alaina Penning-Butterworth. I'm a postdoctoral fellow in the Davies Lab. We have an international working group looking at the nexus of climate change, biodiversity, and infectious disease. The goal of this group is to connect or understand the mechanistic links between each of these three large research topics in order to inform future research and management strategies. In the malaria system we know that malaria is caused by mosquitoes and the plasmodium that infects mosquitoes and that mosquitoes vector malaria to humans. We find that in this system, management strategies for malaria are actually mediated through management strategies for biodiversity. When deforestation occurs it changes the microclimate of the forest and that can lead to increased generation times of plasmodium and the mosquito vectors themselves. This can increase the transmission probability and rate to humans. This leads to larger outbreaks of malaria. In this case, management strategies to combat deforestation also decrease disease spread.

We wanted to bring researchers who focus on climate change, biodiversity, and disease together or possibly look at the interactions between two of these global pressures together at a symposium to provide a catalyst for future collaborations and inform each other of ways to expand our research in order to connect all three of these pressures. So someone who maybe works on how biodiversity impacts disease could talk to another researcher about how climate impacts biodiversity and how that might be applied to their system to inform future management strategies.

My research focuses on how climate change impacts disease spread. Specifically I'm looking at how sudden oak death in oak trees might spread under future climate scenarios or different climate scenarios. Currently I don't have a biodiversity focus, but I'm hoping that with help from the working group I can incorporate a biodiversity angle to help understand this system better. While synthesizing this research we find that the pairwise connections between these global pressures exists. The research that connects climate and biodiversity exists. The research that connects biodiversity and disease exists. We just need to put those pieces together to understand how these links interact with one another, what sort of paths they might take in order to inform management strategies, and where in that pathway to pinpoint effective management strategies.


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