Mosquito-borne diseases pose a growing risk to public health in urban areas. Asian tiger mosquitoes are a vector of high concern as they thrive in cities, live in close association with people, and can reproduce in very small pools of water.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the global authority for determining species’ vulnerability in the face of threats such as habitat loss and climate change. How widely a species can be found – its geographic range – is a key indicator used by the IUCN to assign an appropriate conservation status.
Most of the planet’s freshwater stores are found in the northern hemisphere, a region that is changing rapidly in response to human activity and shifting climate trends. A recent study analyzed 147 northern lakes and found that many rely on nutrients from tree leaves, pine needles, and other land-grown plants to feed aquatic life.
Tiny ticks are a big problem. Anyone taking a walk in the woods is advised to do a tick check. Ticks infect more than 325,000 people with Lyme disease each year, and this number continues to rise.
Filoviruses have devastating effects on people and primates, as evidenced by the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. For nearly 40 years, preventing spillovers has been hampered by an inability to pinpoint which wildlife species harbor and spread the viruses.
Ebola. Hantavirus. Lyme disease. What do they have in common? Like most emerging infectious diseases, they originated in mammals. So many debilitating pathogens make the jump from wildlife and livestock to humans, yet at the global scale little is known about where people are most at risk of outbreaks.
Scientists are calling for the creation of a global early warning system for infectious diseases. Such a system would use computer models to tap into environmental, epidemiological, and molecular data – gathering the intelligence needed to forecast where disease risk is high and what actions could prevent outbreaks or contain epidemics.
Citizen scientists play a vital role in raising awareness about the health of our nation’s freshwater resources. Their efforts can help document water clarity and track harmful algal blooms and other indicators of poor water quality instrumental to sound management.
Each year, more than 25 million shipping containers enter the U.S. All too often, highly destructive forest pests are lurking among their imported goods. Wood boring insects arrive as stowaways in wood packaging, such as pallets and crates. Other forest pests and pathogens hitchhike in on foreign-reared plants bound for American nurseries.
The discovery of acid rain in North America was made possible by environmental data collected at a biological field station nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is just one of the many biological field stations located around the globe that are keeping a pulse on the health of our planet.
There are approximately 3,500 mosquito species in the world. Of those, only a few hundred are known to bite humans. And just two have adapted to breed almost exclusively in urban environments where they are in close proximity to people.
De-extinction, or the act of bringing extinct species back from the dead, has been riding a wave of enthusiasm. Nearly 2 million people have watched Steward Brand’s TED talk on the topic, and Beth Shapiro’s book How to Clone a Mammoth has received rave reviews.
Bolivia’s second largest lake has nearly disappeared. Lake Poopó, a saltwater lake located in a shallow depression in the Altiplano Mountains, used to cover an area about the size of Los Angeles. While it’s not the first time the lake has dried out, scientists believe its recovery hangs in the balance due to the combined stress of drought, climate change, and water diversion.
Have you ever wondered what happens when a fish encounters a dam or a culvert? Too often, these structures are barriers to breeding and nursery sites, feeding grounds, and vital genetic mixing. In a warming world, barriers also prevent fish from seeking refuge as stream temperatures change.
In New York’s Hudson Valley, it’s hard to go outside without stepping on an acorn. Oaks have ‘boom and bust’ acorn production cycles. In lean years, trees produce a handful of nuts. In boom years, acorns seem to rain down from the sky. We are currently experiencing an acorn bumper-crop, or what ecologists call a ‘mast’ year.
In some forests, there can be more than 100 acorns per square meter. This is welcome news to animals like mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. They can gorge on the bounty and stock their larders. Acorn caches help wildlife avoid predators and survive the lean months of winter. They even give well-fed rodents a jump-start on the breeding season.
For this reason, acorn “mast” years are also harbingers of future Lyme disease risk. In the summer following acorn booms, white-footed mouse numbers explode. In New York’s Hudson Valley, these mice play a major role in infecting blacklegged ticks with the agents that cause Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis.
Cary Institute disease ecologist Rick Ostfeld explains.
“The ticks that are emerging as larvae in August – just as the mice and chipmunks are reaching their population peaks – they have tons of excellent hosts to feed from. They survive well and they get infected with tick-borne pathogens. And that means that two years following a good acorn crop we see high abundance of infected ticks, which represents a risk of human exposure to tick borne disease.”
Predictions are based on 20 years of field studies that have confirmed the relationship among acorn mast years, mouse outbreaks, and the prevalence of infected ticks. Mark your calendars – 2017 will likely be a bad year for Lyme disease.
Full interview with Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Photo, posted August 16, 2012, courtesy of Rabiem22 via Flickr.