UMW News BureauThe first “On the Rocks” presentation of Block 5 at the University of Montana Western will feature a discussion with Scott Carver, Ph.D. on the ecology of the Ross River virus in Western Australia at 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 in Block Hall Room 311 on the UMW campus. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="213" caption="Dryland salinity in southwestern Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Scott Carver."][/caption] The first “On the Rocks” presentation of Block 5 at the University of Montana Western will feature a discussion with Scott Carver, Ph.D. on the ecology of the Ross River virus in Western Australia. Carver’s presentation, “Dryland salinity and the ecology of Ross River virus in Western Australia,” begins at 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 in Block Hall Room 311 on the UMW campus. Carver is currently performing his postdoctoral research in the biological sciences department at Montana Tech of the University of Montana on small mammal ecology and the transmission of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. “I’m particularly interested in how humans affect their environment around them and how that affects diseases,” Carver said. For his Ph.D. work, Carver, a New Zealand native, lived and performed his research on the ecology of Ross River virus in southwestern Western Australia, one of the most florally bio-diverse regions in the world. This region is also known as the “Wheatbelt” of Australia, and a combination of tree clearing for agriculture and the geology of the land has created several environmental problems in the area, Carver said. Soils in this region are naturally high in salt deposited by sea breezes over millions of years. Trees and plants keep the water table low through water consumption. The clearing of the region’s flora for agriculture has resulted in rising ground-water tables along with large amounts of salt deposits. The saline-laced water has many negative ecological impacts on the area’s freshwater fish, aquatic insects, migrating birds, plants (including wheat and pasture grown by farmers) and drinking water. Carver said the problem has affected 1.5 million hectares (over 3.7 million acres) and that number is predicted to increase to between four and five million hectares by mid-century. Carver’s work focused on how these environmental impacts affected the potential for human incidence of Ross River virus, which is a naturally occurring mosquito-borne pathogen in Australia. The pathogen is usually transmitted to animals like kangaroos, but it also frequently spills over into humans. Carver said there are around 5,000 human cases each year in Australia. The disease causes chronic fatigue type symptoms in humans, often lasting months or years. Because larvae of the vector mosquito that carry the disease develop well in saline water, Carver’s research found a direct relation between the geology and flora of the region and the potential for the Ross River virus to spread to animals and humans. “There is a much greater potential for this disease to become active in these saline affected areas and to affect human health,” Carver explained. Carver said the solution is to find ways to remediate the salty lands through native reforestation and replanting of native flora. Still, Carver estimated it could take more than 100 years to begin to turn the problem around. “It’s a complicated problem with no easy solutions,” Carver acknowledged. Here in Montana, Carver’s work on small mammal ecology and the transmission of Sin Nombre virus (the agent of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in humans) is seeking to explore similar connections between environmental changes across the landscape and the risk of disease. “It’s the same theme of humans’ use of the environment and how this affects ecosystems we live in, in turn influencing our risk of disease exposure,” Carver said.
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