Sustainability Report 2015

Highlights

Case studies

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.