Risk Factors for West Nile Virus: The Role of Biodiversity in the Ecology of Hosts, Vectors and Humans

EPA Grant Number: R833777
Title: Risk Factors for West Nile Virus: The Role of Biodiversity in the Ecology of Hosts, Vectors and Humans
Investigators: Ehrenfeld, Joan G. , Johnson, Branden B. , Jordan, Rebecca , Sukhdeo, Michael , Tsipoura, Nellie
Institution: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , New Jersey Audubon Society , New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2010
Project Amount: $749,994
RFA: An Interdisciplinary Approach To Examining The Links Between Social Stressors, Biodiversity And Human Health (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Biodiversity , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Biodiversity of hosts and vectors is known to be important in determining risk of arthropod-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Research to date has concentrated on the important of species richness of hosts and vectors to either amplify or dilute the prevalence of disease. We argue that for the birds and mosquitoes involved in WNV transmission, the biodiversity of the habitat, generated by the plant community, is the ultimate driver of host and vector species diversity. We further suggest that plant biodiversity may influence human behavior with respect to the wetlands that are main habitat for hosts and vectors, and that this behavior may both increase larval habitat through creating pools and containers, and increase risk by enhancing outdoor activity in or near these sites. Our studies will test these hypotheses.


We will study a set of wetlands located within the highly urban northeastern region of New Jersey. Wetlands will be sampled to determine plant diversity, hydrology water-retaining features within the wetlands, bird diversity, mosquito diversity and viral prevalence. We will also investigate human perceptions of diversity, values and behavior in the adjacent residential communities. Data analyses will utilize a variety of components of diversity, in addition to species richness. Bayesian analyses of the multivariate datasets thus produced, using Markov chain-Monte-Carlo methods, will be used to test the causal relationships between plant diversity, hydrological variability, richness of hosts (birds) and vectors (mosquitoes), and human values and behavior.

Expected Results:

The results will be applicable to wetland management activities, with respect to reducing larval habitat, health education/intervention efforts, and EPA authority for developing IPM for mosquito control by understanding determinants of mosquito habitat and abundance, and exposure pathways for West Nile virus. Collaborations with a state agency and an environment NGO will enhance the application of results.

Supplemental Keywords:

biodiversity, swamp, insects, avian ecology, hydrograph, anthropogenic disturbance, watershed, mental model,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • Final