Graham Sustainability Institute

Understanding the Dynamics of Vector-transmitted Diseases in a Changing World

This Anopheles albimanus mosquito is one disease vector for malaria.


Mercedes Pascual – College of Literature, Science, & the Arts
Edward Ionides – College of Literature, Science, & the Arts
Ivette Perfecto – School For Environment and Sustainability

Project Summary

In the tropics, two diseases—malaria and cutaneous leishmaniasis—are among the most important emerging and resurging vector-borne diseases. Researchers suspect that changes in land use and climate are contributing to the increased prevalence of these and other vector-borne pathogens, and they are working to understand how multiple environmental trends are interacting with each other to drive disease patterns. 

Leveraging extensive expertise related to infectious disease ecology and environmental variability, the team addressed the dynamics of vector-transmitted diseases in the context of environmental change. They examined two case studies—malaria in semi-arid regions of India experiencing dramatic change in irrigation patterns, and cutaneous leishmaniasis in Costa Rica where increased deforestation has led to the fragmentation of vast landscapes that were formerly continuous rain forests—and developed models to understand and quantify:

  • How the fast dynamics (annual outbreaks and multiyear cycles) of malaria in transition regions, where incidence has increased in the past decades and epidemic behavior is now evident, have responded to patterns of human-induced change
  • How land-use changes related to agricultural practices have influenced the temporal dynamics and spatial distribution of malaria and cutaneous leishmaniasis
  • Whether and how land-use change has modified the association of these diseases with climate variability (e.g., rainfall and temperature) and therefore, the feasibility and accuracy of early-warning systems

This work is helping scientists protect human health by making better forecasts of the seasonal and inter-annual disease dynamics in the tropics.

This project received a $196,292 Environmental Sustainability Multidisciplinary Research Team Proposal Grant in 2007.