Michael Muehlenbein's research interests include global health, particularly emerging infectious diseases caused by human-wildlife contact. Over half of all human infections are zoonotic in origin, and the situation seems to be worsening from the impact of global environmental change. Despite these facts, demand for close, meaningful encounters with endangered species is increasing due to decreased opportunities to interact with wildlife throughout the urbanizing world. Ecotourism can promote conservation through increasing public awareness, empowering community members to understand their natural heritage and take action against habitat degradation, as well as raising much needed funds for habitat conservation. However, anthropozoonotic (human to nonhuman animal) transmission of infectious diseases poses a significant threat to wildlife, which not only threatens survival of the species we wish to conserve, but also the economic stability of regions that rely on revenue from ecotourism.
To understand these complex relationships better, he is working with colleagues in Sabah, Malaysia in an attempt to analyze infectious disease transmission (arboviruses, avian and human influenzas, streptococcus, respiratory syncytial virus, tuberculosis, leptospirosis, malaria, filariasis, Legionella, meliodosis, and intestinal parasites) between people, non-human primates (orangutans, longtailed macaques, pigtailed macaques, proboscis monkeys), small mammals (primarily rodents), livestock, domestic pets and arthropods (mosquitoes, leeches and ticks) in areas characterized by high wildlife population densities and human encroachment through local population growth, oil palm plantations, and large influxes of ecotourists.
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