Task group to enhance GBIF-enabled research on species linked to human diseases

Experts to help guide mobilization and use of data on wild species that serve as hosts, vectors and reservoirs and cause disease in human communities

Tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), Côte d'Azur, France. Photo 2020 Martin Galli via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

The GBIF Secretariat has launched a new expert group charged with helping to improve the discovery, access and use of biodiversity data linked to human diseases.

The task group on mobilization and use of biodiversity data for research and policy on human diseases is part of an ongoing effort to improve the completeness, relevance and fitness-for-use of biodiversity data shared through the GBIF network. The Secretariat scoped the group in response to a growing range of studies that draw upon occurrence data for wild hosts, vectors, and reservoirs of human disease.

However, the group's mandate, which seeks to build on previous examples that show how researchers can use species occurrence data to assess risks and predict potential hotspots for outbreaks of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, has taken on greater importance in light of the current pandemic.

"This initiative is timely and welcome," says John Reeder, Director of TDR—the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, based at the World Health Organization (WHO). "Better availability of biodiversity data on wild hosts, vectors and reservoirs will complement TDR’s support for research on preventing and controlling vector-borne diseases."

"This effort will support of the work of WHO and member states to better understand the distribution of vectors and reservoirs, which are rapidly changing due to environmental and climate variations. Vectors in particular are silently spreading to newer areas exposing more human populations to risk of diseases," said Raman Velayudhan, Unit Head, Veterinary Public Health, Vector Control and Environment (VVE), WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases.

"As the current pandemic has so clearly demonstrated, biodiversity and human well-being are inextricably linked," said Tanya Abrahamse, chair of the GBIF Governing Board. "By providing access to high-quality data relevant to zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, GBIF can support the implementation of 'One Health' approaches to disease research, public-health risk management and policy responses like those outlined in the IPBES Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics."

While other organizations handle medical data related to human diseases, GBIF is uniquely positioned to respond to a call by the WHO to streamline access to complementary data on zoonotic diseases. As the WHO strategy on Global vector control response 2017–2030 noted:

Entomological, epidemiological and intervention data are often managed separately without linkage, resulting in insufficient information on the impact of vector control interventions on entomological parameters and pathogen transmission.

The task group will start by looking at data sources relevant for research on zoonotic and vector-borne diseases. By delivering reports outlining practical guidelines and recommendations on six-month cycles, the group hopes to establish a responsive and efficient framework for conducting further targeted campaigns.

The composition of the task group reflects a range of global policy interests and research approaches. Membership in the open-ended group is likely to evolve as it delivers its reports. Marianne Sinka of the Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab will serve as the group's initial chair, with GBIF scientific officer Dmitry Schigel coordinating its efforts and its reports to the GBIF Governing Board.

Task group members

Terms of Reference: Task group on human diseases