The consequences of wildlife emerging diseases are global and profound with increased burden on the public health system, negative impacts on the global economy, declines and extinctions of wildlife species, and subsequent loss of ecological integrity. Examples of health threats to wildlife include Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which causes a cutaneous fungal infection of amphibians and is linked to declines of amphibians globally; and the recently discovered Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans, the etiologic agent of white nose syndrome which has caused precipitous declines of North American bat species. Of particular concern are the novel pathogens that have emerged as they are particularly devastating and challenging to manage. A big science approach to wildlife health research is needed if we are to make significant and enduring progress in managing these diseases. The advent of new analytical models and bench assays will provide us with the mathematical and molecular tools to identify and anticipate threats to wildlife, and understand the ecology and epidemiology of these diseases. Specifically, new molecular diagnostic techniques have opened up avenues for pathogen discovery, and the application of spatially referenced databases allows for risk assessments that can assist in targeting surveillance. Long-term, systematic collection of data for wildlife health and integration with other datasets is also essential. Multidisciplinary research programs should be expanded to increase our understanding of the drivers of emerging diseases and allow for the development of better disease prevention and management tools, such as vaccines. Finally, we need to create a National Fish and Wildlife Health Network that provides the operational framework (governance, policies, procedures, etc.) by which entities with a stake in wildlife health cooperate and collaborate to achieve optimal outcomes for human, animal, and ecosystem health.
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Has the time come for big science in wildlife health?