Bard College Biology Professor Felicia Keesing Wins Prestigious National Science Foundation Grant
$241,000 Grant Will Fund Project Synthesizing Keesing’s 25 of Years of Research Exploring Linkages between Ecology, Conservation, and HealthANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Felicia Keesing, Bard College’s David and Rosalie Rose Distinguished Professor of Science, Mathematics, and Computing, a $241,000 grant for a project to write two papers that—drawing on Keesing’s 25 years of research into linkages between ecology, conservation, and health—aim to provide better conceptual frameworks for the study of the impact of biodiversity on plant, animal, and human health. The NSF grant includes funding for travel to conferences and salaries for several undergraduate research assistants over a two-year period.
As the climate warms and rates of local and global extinctions accelerate, understanding connections between the environment and the health of plants, animals, and humans has become increasingly urgent. While the field of disease ecology has held great promise because of the expectation that its practitioners can facilitate predictions and guide ecological interventions to mitigate health concerns connected to the environment, Keesing says that, too frequently, predictions come too late to be useful, and plans for mitigation must await years of data collection. Her project, “A synthesis of the effects of biodiversity on plant, animal, and human health,” looks to provide predictive frameworks that allow practitioners to take advantage of the results of prior research, adapting them to new situations as these arise.
“Ecology is increasingly seen as a key ally of the health sciences, but concrete examples of how ecology can productively inform health policy remain relatively scarce,” Keesing says. “The proposed syntheses could impact environmental policies that affect the health of humans, other animals, and plants, in part by framing research questions that urgently require exploration and explication.”
Felicia Keesing, David and Rosalie Rose Distinguished Professor of Science, Mathematics, and Computing, has been on the Bard faculty since 2000. She has a B.S. from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1995, she has studied how African savannas function when the large, charismatic animals like elephants, buffaloes, zebras, and giraffes disappear. She also studies how interactions among species influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. Keesing also studies Lyme disease, another tick-borne disease. She is particularly interested in how species diversity affects disease transmission. More recently, she has focused on science literacy for college students, and she led the re-design of Bard College’s Citizen Science program. Keesing has received research grants from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others. She has been awarded the United States Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2000). She is the coeditor of Infectious Disease Ecology: Effects of Ecosystems on Disease and of Disease on Ecosystems (2008) and has contributed to such publications as Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ecology Letters, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Ecology, BioScience, Conservation Biology, and Trends in Ecology & Evolution, among others.
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