Wildlife Health Monitoring Network

Goal of the Wildlife Health Monitoring Network

Integrating different types of wildlife disease surveillance data together provides critical information for understanding wildlife disease patterns and their potential impact on wildlife, human, and domestic animal health. To help address this need, WDIN is building the Wildlife Health Monitoring Network (WHMN), a Web-based open source system with interchangeable modules that support data entry, storage, reporting, analysis, and exchange in collaboration with many partners. The goal of this system is to create tools for institutions and individuals to track and store wildlife health data in a way that is useful and meaningful to them, as well as allowing them to share their data, as they deem appropriate, with the rest of the Network. It also allows the WDIN to quickly respond to information collection, storage and retrieval needs, without building an entirely new system to address rapidly changing needs.

Flexible Database Structure

At the core of the WHNM development, WDIN's collaboration with the University of Wisconsin's Division of Information Technology has produced a flexible, scalable, and robust database schema. The database design allows flexibility for evolving tracking requirements by representing semantic structure through data rather than though table structure. WDIN's approach to database structure has been to replace traditional table fields describing a measurement or similar record (e.g., location, age, sample), with a concept for each data entity having a type and a value. To record new types of data, the database only requires an added new type to the table.

Contrast this with a more traditional approach of adding a new column to a table and then retrofitting data input and reporting mechanisms to accommodate the newly hardwired data element. The approach of soft coding types allows database users to record new types of data without needing information technology support.

Adaptable Data Entry

To provide a means to standardize data entry, while being flexible enough to allow for individual organization's needs in regards to data collection and entry, WDIN anticipates offering tools which would allow user groups to design their own Web-based forms. These forms could be unique in look, feel, and contents, but have the ability to draw from standardized questions and answers to control consistency from application to application and, therefore, help with data comparison in the future.

Additional data import functions would also allow for Microsoft Excel files or other commonly used data storage formats to be accommodated within WHMN. WHMN's ability to handle other data formats lies in the heart of the next topic, data integration.


WHMN includes a module for moving the data from the entry form to the database. This same tool will enable data from other systems to be "mapped" to the WDIN local database, allowing for significant ease of data warehousing to improve creating reports and enhancing the ability to do analyses. Each data source would have a customized ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) function generated that would crosswalk the data elements from the source database to the appropriate observations in WHMN and also map the terminology used from the native terms to the centralized terms. This process will allow a variety of source data sets to be viewed and mapped together. Data need not originate within the WHMN (e.g., use the Wildlife Health Event Reporter) to be shared with the WHMN database. The ETL process can be set up to query against external databases, where the originating data and information reside. This ability allows external partners who wish to make data available to the WHMN system to continue to use their existing data structure.

Open Source Applications – Tools for All

The goal of the WHMN toolset strives to use as many open source technologies as possible to ensure that the application can be set up in as many instances as desired and keep a low cost overhead. In addition to adopting open source tools in existence for report generation and mapping (Pentaho BI), the database backend utilizes PostgreSQL, an open source enterprise class database with 15 years of development history. By adopting these widely used open source tools in a loosely coupled environment, WHMN can insert or substitute tools as new system needs are identified in the future.

Looking to the Future

As data sets are identified and integrated with the WHMN, additional analysis components will be investigated and incorporated into the system beyond simple reporting, querying, and mapping. Additional tasks for future expansion include workflow management functions, laboratory integration mechanisms, and additional terminology development with stakeholders and partners.

Using this innovative, flexible system, the Wildlife Health Monitoring Network, researchers, and decision-makers—wildlife and non-wildlife related—who share concerns about wildlife disease can coordinate disease control and prevention efforts within and across political and disciplinary boundaries in effort to protect the well-being of all living things and promote a healthy ecosystem.

Current components of the Wildlife Health Monitoring Network:

  • Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER): a wildlife health observation reporting program that offers email or RSS alerts to anyone interested in keeping track of wildlife health events.

  • WHER Feeds and Alerts: sign up for GeoRSS or Email alerts from WHER by administrative unit or for all reports.

  • GeoRSS Ingester for WHER: a configurable process providing a means to periodically harvest new events from external data systems or dataset.

  • Wildlife Disease News Digest: a frequently updated news service aggregating news articles that cover emerging infectious diseases, zoonoses, environmental toxins, population threats, unexplained incidents, die-offs and more.

  • How to subscribe or access the information from the Wildlife Disease News Digest by Email or feeds

  • Global Wildlife Disease News Map: geographic, tabular and timeline views of those news stories from the Wildlife Disease News Digest that discuss disease detection and/or geographic spread.

  • In development: wildlife health event information discovered in social media posts (e.g. Twitter) [short paper]

For More Information

Dr. Kurt Sladky
Principal Investigator
University of Wisconsin Madison
School of Veterinary Medicine
Department of Surgical Sciences
Phone: 608-262-8818
E-mail: sladkyk@svm.vetmed.wisc.edu

Megan Hines
Technical Manager
University of Wisconsin Madison
School of Veterinary Medicine
Wildlife Data Integration Network
Phone: 608-262-7785
E-mail: mkhines@wisc.edu


This site was developed and is maintained by the Wildlife Data Integration Network with support from:
University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine

University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine