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Disease Ecology in a Changing World

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As Earth’s population grows, scientists are continually discovering new connections between the environment and human health. 

Researchers with Stanford’s Program on Disease Ecology in a Changing World (DECO) are working to understand those connections in collaboration with local communities best positioned to balance the needs of people and nature. Together, we are pursuing win-win ecological solutions for health and the environment, leveraging the combined expertise of scholars across Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health and School of Medicine as well as the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Woods Institute for the Environment, and our partners at other institutions. As a core focus area of the Human and Planetary Health Initiative, we study the ecological, environmental, and socioeconomic drivers of diseases transmitted through the environment, including vector-borne, parasitic, zoonotic, and wildlife-based diseases. We investigate changes in where those diseases occur, how they spread, and the role of climate and land-use change in both. With that knowledge, we develop ecological solutions to control disease transmission, improve human health, and protect the health of the environment that underpins it.

DECO builds on the success of earlier disease ecology collaborations at Stanford that explored ecological solutions and strategies for meeting the rapidly evolving environmental and socio-economic needs of our changing world. Today we’re expanding the scale, concepts, and implementation of several ecohealth solutions designed and catalyzed by the Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment (DEHE), including Trash to Treasure, Health in Harmony, Pigs & Parasites, and the Upstream Alliance.  Learn more about our roots in the Program on Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment at:



Giulio De Leo

Professor of Oceans, of Earth System Science, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and Professor, by courtesy of Biology
Erin Mordecai

Associate Professor of Biology and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

DECO Research Themes

DECO is an interdisciplinary program focused on five overarching research themes:

  • Biodiversity Loss and Zoonotic Disease
  • Land Use, Climate Change and Vector-Borne Disease
  • Parasitic Disease, Infrastructure and Poverty
  • Pathogens at the Wildlife-Human Interface
  • Nature-Based Solutions for Health


DECO Cornerstone Projects focus on specific geographic areas, impacted communities, environmental and socio-economic drivers, and ecological win-win solutions. These projects span multiple research groups and partners, including health authorities in Costa Rica, Kenya, Brazil, and Senegal, the University of Pará, Health in Harmony, the Natural Capital Project, the University of Costa Rica, the Osa & Golfito Initiative, HERI-Kenya, Global Schistosomiasis Alliance, and the World Bank. 

  • Brazil hub:
    - Deforestation, gold mining, and malaria in the Amazon (Mordecai lab)
    - Informal settlements, climate change, dengue leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis (Mordecai and De Leo labs) 

  • Costa Rica: Pineapple expansion, rural dengue, and ecosystem services (Mordecai and Dirzo labs)

  • Africa: Water infrastructure and parasitic disease (De Leo lab)

  • Kenya: Plastic trash and arboviruses (LaBeaud and Mordecai lab)

DECO Strategic Priorities

  • Capacity building: Building a cohort of faculty, students, and researchers engaged in action-oriented research at the nexus of environmental change, disease ecology, ecosystem health, and human wellbeing.

  • Research: Advancing cornerstone projects in basic and applied science aimed at understanding the multifaceted links between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human, animal, and plant health, and discovering ecological solutions for health.

  • Education: Preparing the next generation of disease ecology leaders, and developing trans-disciplinary curricula engaging students at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels.

  • Global and local engagement: Catalyzing engagement with current efforts in conservation, health, and the environment through work with governments, multilateral agencies, development banks, non-governmental organizations, and local and Indigenous communities.

  • Outreach: Crafting resources and communication campaigns highlighting the health impacts of biodiversity loss and global change, as well as evidence-informed solutions for a healthy planet that supports healthy people.