May 20, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 270 — Zoonotic disease, and leaving Russia

In other news, the need to understand how diseases jump from animals to humans, and what role climate change plays in that, is more relevant than ever, especially since COVID-19 is believed to have made such a leap. Robins are one of the most common birds in North America, and they are known for hosting and dispersing pathogens that cause diseases like West Nile Virus and Lyme disease in humans, but their migratory patterns are little understood, making it difficult for researchers to understand their potential to spread disease. A team of IU researchers, supported by IU’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge Initiative, is studying the migratory patterns and health of robins in Indiana, with the understanding that climate change is predicted to modify these patterns. The researchers capture robins from various sites in Bloomington, Indiana, and Anchorage, Alaska, to check their health and collect blood for future genetic research. They also attach a GPS tracking tag to each bird to track its movements. The data are compared with similar data collected by collaborating researchers in Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma. Together, this information completes a picture of migratory activity across the country and can help identify hotspots and transmission routes of diseases robins carry. The data show that most robins that breed in Bloomington winter near the Gulf of Mexico, but many stay in town all year, which is unique among the robin populations in the study. All Alaska robins studied migrate to the Great Plains, and all the robins tagged in D.C. spent the winter in that vicinity. This research can be used to identify regions of the country that are vulnerable to the spread of zoonotic disease, so local agencies can make informed public health policy decisions that may reduce the risk of infection among people. Researchers are also studying the potential for robins to act as sentinels of rapid environmental change, such as the impacts that urbanization has on ecosystem health.

In other news, the Great Resignation may be fueling American companies’ exodus from Russia in protest over the war with Ukraine. Kelley School of Business faculty Steven Kreft and Ellie Mafi-Kreft say that companies are recognizing that they need to be seen as more socially responsible if they want to attract younger Gen Z and millennial workers. Despite the potential losses – sometimes in the billions of dollars – that companies stand to incur from pulling out of Russia, many are doing it anyway. While some are citing legitimate business concerns in addition to their condemnation over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such as the safety of their workers or supply-chain snarls, the IU researchers believe the Great Resignation, in which record numbers of workers are quitting their jobs, is amplifying other risks of staying in Russia. Across the globe, large numbers of workers have been quitting their jobs, leaving companies scrambling for top talent and shifting the balance of power to the workers. Employees are demanding higher pay and more benefits, and some are seeking careers that are more in line with their values. Labor-strained industries have been especially quick to cut ties with Russia after facing criticism from their employees, the researchers say. Short-term losses caused by exiting Russia appear to be worth it to avoid long-term problems with employee recruiting and retention, which are important drivers of a company’s long-term profitability. Training new workers is costly, and the best talent is always hard to recruit. Staying in Russia despite the egregiousness of the invasion would have done more harm in the long run for both a company’s customer base as well as its employees and potential future recruits, they say.