September 16, 2011

In the Spotlight : Wildlife Health Newsmaker Interview with Dr. James N. Mills

Wildlife Disease News Digest
In the Spotlight

Wildlife Health Newsmaker Interview with Dr. James N. Mills

Who are you?

James N. Mills, Ph.D., Editor, Journal of Wildlife Diseases (
Retired Chief, Medical Ecology Unit, Viral Special Pathogens Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Adjunct Professor, Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution, Emory University
Member, Scientific Committee, DIVERSITAS EcoHealth Cross-cutting Network
Chair, DIVERSITAS EcoHealth, Biodiversity and Emerging Disease working group

What are you working on now?

  • As its Editor, I advocate, represent, and provide leadership for the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, including conducting workshops on writing and publication for scientists and graduate students of wildlife disease in Latin American Countries. The Journal is experiencing a period of rapid global evolution as evidenced by the near-doubling of total numbers of submitted manuscripts and quadrupling of manuscripts from non-North American countries in the last three years.
  • As a senior scientific advisor and consultant to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies, I am serving as a consultant and on working groups involving zoonotic disease, climate change, and vaccine studies. I am also providing expert testimony concerning zoonotic pathogens.
  • I am actively working with nongovernmental organizations that advance the translation of research findings to practice; for example organizing and co-chairing a special session on Biodiversity Loss and the Emergence of Infectious Disease for “Planet Under Pressure,” in March, 2012, London.
  • I am providing lectures and training on zoonotic and vector-borne disease topics and wildlife disease research and safety in national and international forums. In November I will give a keynote presentation on climate change and emerging zoonotic diseases for the symposium “Strategies for Zoonoses Prevention under Climate Change” in Taipei, Taiwan.
  • I am mentoring a soon-to-graduate Ph.D. student studying Disease Ecology at Emory University, and serving on dissertation committees for several other Ph.D. students.
  • I continue to collaborate in ongoing research projects in several countries (e.g, Colombia, Brazil, Peru) and to publish original scientific articles in wildlife and zoonotic disease ecology.

How does your work benefit wildlife disease research?

Promulgation of research results in the scientific literature is the primary means by which knowledge grows and discoveries are applied. The Journal of Wildlife Diseases is the premier international journal for Wildlife Disease research.

Just as wildlife biodiversity increases toward the topics, so does the diversity of wildlife pathogens. Especially as human encroachment of formerly pristine tropical habitats increases, the tropics will be the primary sources of emerging wildlife and zoonotic diseases. Yet the developing countries of the tropics represent the areas that receive the least research and are least understood.

I believe that our efforts toward internationalization of the Wildlife Disease Association, encouragement of publication by scientists from less represented countries and making the Journal available, free of charge, to scientists from countries in the lowest economic tiers will contribute to more research and greater understanding of wildlife diseases in those areas of the world that are least studied.

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

For too many years scientists in different disciplines (veterinary science, ecology, public health, conservation) have worked toward overlapping goals without collaboration and published in their own literature. This has resulted in inefficiencies and duplication of effort.

Multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional, collaborative research projects may be the only way to understand the increasingly complex wildlife disease issues brought about by climate change coupled with expanding human perturbation of natural habitats.