Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Developing Landscape Design Guidelines for Mitigating Human Risk of Lone Star Tick-Associated Pathogens

EPA Grant Number: R833495
Title: Developing Landscape Design Guidelines for Mitigating Human Risk of Lone Star Tick-Associated Pathogens
Investigators: Chase, Jonathan M. , Allan, Brian F , Goessling, Lisa S. , Thach, Robert Edwards
Institution: Washington University
EPA Project Officer: Pongsiri, Montira J.
Project Period: October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2011
Project Amount: $237,439
RFA: Pesticide Registration Improvement Renewal Act (PRIA 2) Partnership Grants (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Biodiversity


The sustainable management of healthy ecosystems may yield an important, previously under-recognized benefit in the form of buffering humans against exposure to emerging vector-borne diseases. Studies from ecosystems across the world have shown that human alteration of natural landscapes can create hotspots for emerging zoonotic diseases through a complex pathway of ecological interactions of hosts and vectors, and that sustainable ecosystem management may be used as a way to reduce such effects. Here, we propose an interdisciplinary study to examine the consequences of anthropogenic landscape change for the emergence of several bacterial pathogens along with the dynamics of their tick vectors and vertebrate hosts in the context of suburban development and land-use practices in the expanding Saint Louis, MO Metropolitan area. Preliminary studies from this region indicate that human landscape changes associated with intermediate levels of forest cover, establishment of invasive plant species, and high densities of tick hosts generate elevated human risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases. We will explore patterns in human land-use and development and global change on the structure of ecosystems and their propensity to influence the emergence of ticks and tick-borne pathogens. Our objective is to explicitly quantify the effects of environmental changes on human health, and directly compare the level of exposure risk between healthy and human-modified landscapes. Further, in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, we will consider the human health impact of landscape change by comparing field-derived data of tick-borne disease risk to the distribution of human disease incidence.

Expected Results:

We will address these data in a Geographic Information Systems framework, to expressly quantify the impacts of specific landscape changes and to develop predictive models of the potential impacts of future landscape change on human health, thereby generating recommendations for sustainable land management in Midwestern ecosystems. Within the context of this research we will expand our capacity to provide research opportunities for undergraduates and local high school research interns to explore the ecology of tick-borne diseases within their communities. We will also prepare demonstration activities for the general public on the ecology of tick-borne diseases and the connections between environmental change and human health via a combination of seminars, workshops, field tours and public health announcements. Our objective is to disseminate the results of our research as widely as possible within the impacted communities, particularly areas of high tick-borne disease risk. These results will be broadly applicable throughout many areas of the United States undergoing extensive landscape change and increased human risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases. The research will generate a greater understanding of the environmental drivers of disease emergence and help us develop recommendations by which land-use practices can be altered to maintain the important ecosystem service of infectious disease mitigation.

Supplemental Keywords:

Epidemiology; landscape ecology; integrated pest management; vector-borne disease,