When student vet Laura Donohue learned that Cortland Seafood had fresh, whole fish available, she quickly called for a few perches and went home to dissect them on her kitchen table. What resulted – perch organs, scales and tiny bones laid out on trash bags and plastic wrap – might have been a gruesome scene for anyone outside the veterinary profession, but it was enlightening for Donohue. She wanted to see for herself where the fish’s spleen was in relation to its stomach.
The College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) offers its veterinary students in-depth anatomy courses, but Donohue was on assignment for another project: drawing illustrations for a new wildlife book to be published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
“I was asked to illustrate the general lesions of a fish disease,” she says. “While drawing it, I realized that I didn’t really understand the relationship between the spleen, liver and stomach. Can you see a liver along with the spleen, along with the stomach, or should I show it without the liver? I needed to search for myself.
Donohue, DVM ’22, combines his artistic talents and passion for animals in illustrations for “Wildlife Health and Disease in Conservation.” The book features over 100 of his drawings, which depict common wildlife disease cycles and their social, cultural and economic influences. With the exception of an undergraduate art class, Donohue is self-taught and has been drawing since childhood.
The book’s co-editors, David Jessup, wildlife veterinarian at the University of California-Davis, and Robin Radcliffe, associate professor of practical wildlife and conservation medicine at CVM, invited Donohue to join the project. last year.
“When we found out that Laura had gone to the supermarket, bought some fish and dissected it on her kitchen table, we knew we had hired the right person for the job,” Radcliffe says.
Donohue originally planned to go on one of Radcliffe’s educational trips to Indonesia in 2020, but due to pandemic restrictions the trip was cancelled. Although Cornell couldn’t send her halfway around the world as planned, Radcliffe saw a unique chance to simultaneously provide her with a learning opportunity tailored to her needs while breathing multicolored life into her new collection. edited and that of Jessup.
“Art and aesthetics can inspire people to care and take action on serious issues, which we certainly face when it comes to One Health and environmental issues,” says Jessup, referring to the concept that the health of wildlife, domestic animals, humans and the environment are inextricably linked.
Donohue’s art accompanies each of the 25 chapters, which focus on diseases ranging from Ebola in endangered mountain gorillas to avian malaria and the extinction of Hawaiian forest birds.
Each chapter also addresses important non-biological factors for disease, including the social, financial, legal and political factors at play. “We hope this is done well enough that, with illustrations, the book will be useful to policy makers and to stakeholders who may not have a strong biomedical background, and who can also influence how society deals with health, disease and conservation,” says Jessup. .
This is where Donohue comes in, adds Radcliffe. “She was able to capture the disease risk landscape – all of the elements that contribute to a disease and could impact conservation efforts. For some, it may be habitat loss or increased transportation, for example. Laura helped illustrate these ideas and gave the book a really rich visual element.
Many illustrations by Donohue show disease cycles in action and the animal systems in each chapter.
“One of the things I love about Cornell is how they teach us using real cases,” Donohue said. “It was an extension of that. I’m a very visual person, and for me the book was a combination of science, art, and learning.
Among his favorite chapters to work on was the one on waterfowl diseases, written by Jessup. “I worked with him to rearrange the images, especially related to botulism,” says Donohue. “We commonly see an outbreak of botulism following flooding, but other ways are plowing or irrigation, which can kill invertebrates or small animals, which can spread the spores.” Donohue’s illustration depicts the behavior of ducks as an example, ingesting the toxin and dying in large numbers.
“Some of my favorite illustrations are those that show the organs of the body as the bird goes about its daily business,” says Donohue. “I draw them as you might see them in nature. It’s a fascinating way to learn about the cycles of life.
To achieve the desired artistic effects while remaining scientifically accurate, Donohue was in constant communication with the 45 chapter authors. After meeting on Zoom or phone for a conversation about an author’s goals for the chapter, Donohue would sketch out ideas and send them off with follow-up questions. She created a WordPress site specifically to track and provide feedback on drafts.
“I had to make sure I was on the right track before spending too much time on a sketch, because there was so much to do,” says Donohue. “Sometimes I’d share a sketch where one of the animals included was just a box, and they thought I’d go deeper into them as I went along.”
“Laura was approachable, responsive, and appreciated feedback throughout my chapter design process,” says Andy Ramey, director of the Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center. Ramey wrote the “Avian Influenza in Wild Birds” chapter, for which Donohue created three custom illustrations, including a cover image highlighting avian flu research in western Alaska.
Donohue also illustrated the generalized ecology of influenza A viruses in wild birds and spillover hosts, as well as some of the common signs and lesions associated with highly pathogenic influenza A virus infection in wild birds. . “She provided clear, clear examples of what a person might observe in the field or in the clinic if they encountered a bird infected with this ecologically and economically important disease,” Ramey said.
Jessup was particularly struck by the illustrations of sea otters and bighorn sheep. “The bighorn sheep designs in particular help explain a process of bacterial pneumonia that has eluded the understanding of wildlife health specialists for nearly three decades. It’s extremely helpful,” says Jessup. “Many others show the influence of landscape and environment on disease or health problems in wildlife.”
“Laura even brought difficult concepts such as the evolution of viruses to life by showing the transition of disease over time as viruses cross both species and geographical barriers,” says Radcliffe.
Potential for global impact
The editors hope that the combination of rigorous science, storytelling and illustration will make this book a useful guide for readers. “We hope this will open the world of wildlife health professionals to a wider audience,” says Jessup, “and inspire current and future generations to more effectively address wildlife health, disease and conservation. wildlife.”
Radcliffe expects the illustrations in particular to help cement the information in readers’ minds. “A lot of people using it in other parts of the world may not be English speakers, so it can have an even bigger impact,” he says.
“I’m proud to have worked on this book with the editors and authors,” says Donohue. “I feel like I’ve contributed to the learning that comes from it, not just for me, but for those who will use it in the world when it’s released.”
“Wildlife Health and Disease in Conservation” will be available from Johns Hopkins University Press in 2023. Funding for this project and Donohue’s position came from Cornell; the University of California, Davis; the Wildlife Disease Association, USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services; International Wildlife Veterinary Services; the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians; and Veterinarians Without Borders.
Melanie Greaver Cordova is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
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