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Research Project: A Genetic Approach to Assess the Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Disease Vectors

Location: Research Programs

Project Number: 3022-32000-018-038-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 15, 2023
End Date: Aug 14, 2028

Diseases arising from the interaction of humans and domesticated animals with arthropods and wildlife are a growing concern. Their incidences are likely to increase in the coming decades with the continuing anthropogenic changes, such as urbanization, climate change, and the greening of cities, but also nature and forest management as well as healthy aging of humans. To this end, thorough evidence-based insights as well as the development of sustainable control options for vector-borne diseases and threats are key. It enables health authorities to provide their stakeholders with impartial advice and practical solutions on vector-borne diseases. The emergence of ticks and tick-borne diseases appears to occur slowly but surely. In contrast, the introduction, establishment and spread of mosquito-borne diseases appear to be far more capricious. The ecological conditions leading to the relatively slow emergence of tick-borne diseases as well as the sudden outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases are shaped by complex interactions between the vector species, pathogens, their vertebrate hosts and the abiotic environment, which are often poorly understood. Current risk assessments of both tick- and mosquito -borne diseases lack robust measures for the abundance and spread of the vector. Their estimations are often based on inefficient sampling approaches (flagging and light traps), and their abundances display very high spatial, seasonal and year to year variation. This project will primarily aim to develop, validate and implement new and robust measures to assess the abundance, spread and population characteristics at different spatial and temporal scales for the two main arthropod vectors in Europe, namely Ixodes ricinus and Culex pipiens.

Existing tools, based on next generation sequencing techniques, will be assessed for their applicability to measure effective population sizes, dispersal rates and life history traits of Ixodes ricinus and Culex pipiens. The abundance of Ixodes ricinus and Culex pipiens will be measured in many different locations and in some locations for minimally two years using conventional trapping techniques. The genetic variability will be compared with the relative abundances of the vectors. The resolution of the genetic tools will be assessed by sampling at different geographic scales, ranging from within forest sites to continental Europe.