|Spatial epidemiology and GIS in marine mammal conservation medicine and disease research|In: EcoHealth. ISSN 1612-9202, more
spatial epidemiology; GIS; marine mammals; conservation; medicine
The use of spatial epidemiology and geographical information systems (GIS) facilitates the incorporation of spatial relationships into epidemiological investigations of marine mammal diseases and conservation medicine. Spatial epidemiology is the study of the spatial variation in disease risk or incidence and explicitly addresses spatial structures and functions that factor into disease. The GIS consists of input, management, analysis, and presentation of spatial disease data and can act as an integrative tool so that a range of varied data sources can be combined to describe different environmental aspects of wild animals and their diseases. The use of modern spatial analyses and GIS is becoming well developed in the field of marine mammal ecology and biology, but has just recently started to gain more use in disease research. The use of GIS methodology and spatial analysis in nondisease marine mammal studies is briefly discussed, while examples of the specific uses of these tools in mapping, surveillance and monitoring, disease cluster detection, identification of environmental predictors of disease in wildlife populations, risk assessment, and modeling of diseases, is presented. Marine mammal disease investigations present challenges, such as less consistent access to animals for sampling, fewer baseline data on diseases in wild populations, and less robust epidemiologic study designs, but several recommendations for future research are suggested. Since location is an integral part of investigating disease, spatial epidemiology and GIS should be incorporated as a data management and analysis tool in the study of marine mammal diseases and conservation medicine.