Methods, models and meanings in ecoepidemiology: Some examples and applications
For decades, the term ecoepidemiology has been applied to diverse problems, from assorted perspectives, considering a range of data, using sometimes divergent analytical methods. This lack of a common framework persists today, and is both a source of confusion and an opportunity for innovation. Furthermore, a disciplinary "Tower of Babel" continues to limit recognition and exchange of common or complementary approaches and methods. Thus, ecoepidemiology is simultaneously more and less than a combination of ecology and epidemiology. Concepts and methods from ecology are part of the lexicon and conceptual framework of epidemiology, and vice versa; ecoepidemiology, however, has much to learn from both. What, then, makes "ecoepidemiology" a cross-discipline?
A review of published research under the rubric of "ecoepidemiology" shows that studies are quite varied, including: epidemiological analysis of zoonotic or vector-borne human diseases, epizootiology of animal diseases, environmental toxins and human disease, natural resource management and pathogen introduction, dynamic modeling of disease causation, landscape ecology and spatial patterns of disease, multi-level analysis of organization and risk, global change and public health, ecosystem services and human welfare, and more. Examples will be used to illustrate this assortment and its implications. Such diversity raises the question of whether there is value in uniting this mixture into a larger "ecoepidemiology?" Contemporary ecologic and epidemiologic paradigms share some overlapping conceptual frameworks such as a population- and community-level focus, a concern with complexity and non-linear dynamics, an appreciation of temporal-spatial understanding, and an assumption of multi-level causation. Paradigmatic and methodologic advances, however, have mostly evolved from within each discipline, with little exchange or conscious attempt to formalize similarities and differences. An opportunity exists to compare and contrast approaches and applications. Thoughtful and intentional exchange is needed if a cross-discipline of "ecoepidemiology" is to emerge and achieve both intellectual advances and improved interventions.