I am an ecologist and epidemiologist interested in the human health impacts of environmental change, specifically in the context of global trends in biodiversity loss and ecosystem transformation. With a wide range of colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and beyond, I am studying the nutritional implications of terrestrial wildlife declines and fishery declines. Since 1999, I have been conducting ecological and public health research in Madagascar and am fluent in several local dialects of Malagasy.

In Madagascar, I am interested in local people’s dependence on natural resources for obtaining adequate health. This interest has led to various studies into connections between marine and terrestrial wildlife consumption and the incidence of micronutrient deficiencies, the importance of botanical ethnomedicines and geophagy to local health, and the eco-epidemiology of malaria and other diseases given current trends in biodiversity loss and land use change.

At the age of nine, I was asked to do an animal report on any animal of my choice. I flipped through an Encyclopedia of Animals and serendipitously decided upon the ring-tailed lemur. From that day forward, I decided that I wanted to spend time in Madagascar and committed myself to working there. After reading Gerald Durrell's book, The Aye-Aye and I, and a 1988 National Geographic magazine entitled "The Wilds of Madagascar," I was even more convinced that I wanted to work there. In 1999, I spent part of my summer working with Luke Dollar on a research project investigating endemic carnivores in the northwestern dry, deciduous forests in Ankarafantsika National Park.

Since then, I have returned to Madagascar as frequently as possible, always spending at least 3 months a year in country, and having done stints as long as 13 months. In 2004, I began my own work in the Maroantsetra region of the northeastern rainforests in Madagascar to conduct my senior thesis research on the prevalence of bushmeat hunting, and its socio-economic and cultural importance to local Malagasy. I received an A.B. in Environmental Conservation (Special Concentrations) from Harvard College in 2005. 

During my final year at Harvard, I took a course investigating linkages between biodiversity and human health with Eric Chivian and became a research assistant for him on his book, Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity. In 2010, I received an MPH in Epidemiology and in 2011, my Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, advised by Claire Kremen, Lia Fernald, Justin Brashares and Kirk Smith.

After my doctoral work, I finished a 2-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard University Center for the Environment in 2013 working with Sam Myers and Walter Willett, while leading a large-scale prospective cohort study in Madagascar. In 2014, I was honored as a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer for my dedication in pushing the boundaries of traditional public health and environmental science. Most recently, I have been a Research Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Associate Director of the Planetary Health Alliance, continuing to conduct research in Madagascar and elsewhere on the nutritional implications of ecosystem transformation.

© 2017 Rebecca Gaal via Visura