March 12, 2010

In the Spotlight - Wildlife Health Newsmaker Interview

Lewis Gilbert

Associate Director

University of Wisconsin (UW) Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Madison, Wisconsin, USA - Map It

The UW Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is
one of the core partners that supports the NBII Wildlife Disease Information Node, the people who bring you this News Digest. Meet Lewis Gilbert, Associate Director of the Nelson Institute.

What are you working on now?

I am responsible for day-to-day management of many of the Institute’s activities and for new program development. Highlights of my current activities include:

  • Enhancing the participation of UW-Madison faculty with the Wildlife Disease Information Node;
  • Advancing our pilot program in Food Sustainability;
  • Participating in planning for campus-wide efforts around sustainability as part of the UW Chancellor’s task force on sustainability;
  • Raising funds for the next steps in our Wisconsin Initiative for Climate Change Impacts (WICCI);
  • Evaluating teaching loads as we launch a new undergraduate major in Environmental Studies.

How does your work benefit wildlife disease research?

My work benefits our knowledge of wildlife diseases primarily through the support of the Wildlife Disease Information Node. That support provides a couple of things:
  • Infrastructure that supports entrepreneurial research development - By providing an institutional platform that augments its partnership with Federal agencies, I can help WDIN personnel gain access to a wider range of funding sources.
  • Access to scientific partners - A large part of my motivation in bringing WDIN to the Nelson Institute was the potential I saw for WDIN to provide a catalyzing and integrating substrate for wildlife and other disease scientists here at the UW. With the presence of WDIN and through a few recent faculty additions, the partnership of WDIN, UW-Madison, and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center is able to conduct investigation of disease that spans from diseases in purely wild animal populations, through domestic animals and into human populations. Within a radius of 10 miles of the Madison area, we can truly pursue the OneHealth idea with investigators.

What do you see as the most significant challenge for wildlife health professionals today working in the field of wildlife disease?

The biggest challenges on this front are the same as those on many such interdisciplinary fronts - that of translation among ideas of what it means to have constructed a good model and to have collected good data. Fundamental to this is constructing databases that can bring together data and observations of very different kinds. We need tools that can enhance the ability of researchers to find the data they need and to relate the data and models with which they work with those from complementing fields. Finding is often half the battle, as it is often difficult for investigators in one field to even know what researchers are looking for in other fields.

The kinds of tools that WDIN is building are exactly the sorts of things that will break down such obstacles. First steps in this direction can be as simple as compiling maps that show the existence of multiple sets of observations made in a single location by different teams with differing scientific objectives.