Diseases are natural parts of ecosystems, with infectious organisms and other causes of disease serving an important role in regulation of wildlife populations. However, in many systems and populations, the balance between health and disease has shifted. Numerous environmental changes such as climate change, substantial habitat modification, the interface between humans, domestic animals and wildlife, invasive alien species, pathogen pollution (introduction of novel parasites and pathogens), wildlife and domestic animal and plant trade, agricultural intensification and expansion, increasing industrial and human population pressures, can all act as drivers for emergence or re-emergence of diseases. This increase in diseases of both wildlife and domestic stock now means that health has become a cross-cutting issue for conservation.
Wildlife diseases can negatively affect wildlife populations by causing both deaths and reduced reproduction. In some circumstances (such as the role of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis in global amphibian declines) disease can act as an important contributing factor in extinction of wetland species. Additionally, conflicts arise where diseases found in wildlife can threaten human or domestic animal health leading to wildlife being subject to human control measures which may also negatively affect their populations.
WWT responds to these issues across the spectrum by undertaking surveillance, research, policy, advocacy, communication, coordination and capacity building.