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Exploring disease emergence and wildlife conservation

Closeup of gloved hands holding a hammer-headed bat.
Hammer-headed bats, like the one pictured, are among the largest fruit bat species in Africa and are excellent seed dispersers, critical to forest health (photo by Sarah Olson).

Avian influenza and Ebola virus are only two of the many zoonotic diseases with potentially dire consequences for animals and humans alike.  

Sarah Olson, an international expert in wildlife conservation and public health, will talk about her work to improve the health of wildlife and reduce threats of zoonotic disease, such as influenza and Ebola, during the 2023 Robert Jonas Lecture in Biological Sciences at Washington State University Pullman. 

Olson will present a free, public address, “Integrating Health into Global Conservation,” at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21, in the CUB Junior Ballroom and online.

Olson directs health research for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Health Program, which focuses on understanding and mitigating wildlife health and zoonotic disease threats, often associated with human activity, and developing sustainable and effective wildlife health surveillance systems. 

“Dr. Olson’s work at the intersection of infectious disease emergence and conservation is exciting and timely. WSU audiences, especially our students, will benefit from hearing her unique perspective on our place and interactions with the natural world,” said Jesse Brunner, associate professor of biology and advisor for the WSU Zoology Club.

Olson has studied Ebola virus in great apes and bats, avian influenza in wild birds, and white-nose syndrome in North American bats. Her research with WCS, a non-governmental organization based in New York, has focused on front-line wildlife conservation and One Health challenges, including the wildlife trade and emerging infectious diseases.

Working with WCS from her base in Montana, she provides leadership and research support to field veterinarians and conservation staff around the world.

Olson studied how deforestation and climate affect malaria incidence in the Amazon while she was a doctoral student earning a joint degree in population health and environment and resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While at WSU, she will meet with students and faculty in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and deliver a graduate seminar focused on a large-scale empirical study of hibernating bat energetics and modeled implications on susceptibility to white-nose syndrome.

The Robert Jonas Lecture, named in memory of a beloved WSU biology professor, was founded in 2006 to support hosting a speaker chosen annually by the Zoology Club to address a conservation or environment-related topic. The 2023 lecture is sponsored by SBS, the Zoology Club, and the College of Arts & Sciences.

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