Impacts of environmental changes on zoonotic disease risk are the subject of speculation, but lack a coherent framework for understanding environmental drivers of pathogen transmission from animal hosts to humans. We review how environmental factors affect the distributions of zoonotic agents and their transmission to humans, exploring the roles they play in zoonotic systems. We demonstrate the importance of capturing the distributional ecology of any species involved in pathogen transmission, defining the environmental conditions required, and the projection of that niche onto geography. We further review how environmental changes may alter the dispersal behaviour of populations of any component of zoonotic disease systems. Such changes can modify relative importance of different host species for pathogens, modifying contact rates with humans.